4 Mi Morena .
10 What Friends Are For.
18 The Night Guest .
22 Cthulhu’s Nightmare.
27 Compositions in Gratitude and Sorrow
30 A Curse in Any Language.
34 Uncle Eric’s Leather Bound Tale
40 Some Nutcase.
96 Weather .
. Dev Jarrett
.... Matt Finucane
Catherine J. Gardner
. John Jasper Owens
43 Drown. K.S. Conlon
44 The Key Ring.Garrett Calcaterra
2 Editorial: The Future Belongs to the Long Tail
99 Contributor Notes
Cover art for this issue, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” by Jean-Marc Velladier. All
other artwork adapted from public domain sources.
Editor & Publisher.Nathan Shumate
Editorial Board . Crispin Burnham, Christopher B. Jackson
Arkham Tales is published four times a year by Cold Fusion Media Empire. All work
contained herein is ® 2009 Cold Fusion Media Empire or the respective author. This
magazine is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No
Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Contributor guidelines and advertiser
information available at http://www.arkhamtales.com.
Address all editorial inquires to email@example.com.
Arkham Tales , February 2009 1
Editorial: The Future Belongs to the Long Tail
When I was a youngster in the late ’70s and early ’80s, dinosaurs
roamed the Earth. We called them “networks.” Our TV set only picked
up two of them because we were in the hinterlands of eastern Canada;
they were the same two which were in every household we knew. All
the kids at school watched the same show every night (because what
were the odds that two cool shows would be opposite each other?),
and the rare youth who had to go to bed before one of the popular
programs was left out of the cultural mainstream of his peers. Note:
That was usually me.
That kind of monoculture doesn’t exist anymore, on television or
anywhere else. The programs in the TV Top Ten have only a fraction
of the viewership they had a decade ago. Cinema attendance for the
average film (outside of the one of two lynchpin blockbusters that
dominate the summer season) is way down. Newspapers are downsiz¬
ing all over the country, and the circulation for general-purpose
magazines like Reader’s Digest has dropped dramatically. Major music
labels have tried for years to blame their lack of breakout hit artists on
But people are still watching just as many TV shows and movies as
they used to; people are reading more news and other entertainment
content than ever before. And it isn’t pirating of media that’s hurting the
multinational bottom lines, no matter what the RIAA wants you to
believe. The 20 th century was an era of the media monoculture; the 21 st
is an era of media diversification.
The “long tail” is a description of the statistical trail-off on either
side of the swell of a bell curve. The bulk of the curve is what draws the
eye, but it takes a long time for the marginal numbers on the sides to
trail away to zero. Now, as the monoculture breaks up, the height of
the curve isn’t nearly as impressive, and the long tails trailing away
become, in the aggregate, more significant.
What does this mean for media as an industry? For one thing, it
means that it can no longer function as “industry” classically does, with
monolithic means of production and distribution. The democratization
of media means that the quality gap between the high-end production
and the cottage production is constantly shrinking, and if the subject
matter of the cottage production fits the needs of a particular individual
more closely than the mass-produced wares, the individual can happily
and easily turn to the cottage production. In the old days, you couldn’t
easily find media that fit your particular preferences, and instead
simply aligned your preferences to the few extant choices. Nowadays,
you can rely on niche marketing to be glossy, professional, and as close
as the nearest search engine.
Thanks to the thickening of the long tail, fewer companies will be
able make a killing on entertainment and information media, but more
individuals will be able to decent living. And even more individuals will
be able to indulge in a self-supporting passion, a hobby which doesn’t
pay all of the bills but at least pays its way.
That’s exactly where Arkham Tales is right now, hypothetically: a
niche offering which isn’t going to make anyone rich, but which could
support itself among a cadre of like-minded fans who appreciate the
tradition of weird fiction, updated from the pulp magazines to the
modern era. Nobody’s going to make a fortune off this; nobody’s even
going to make a living. But if the magazine breaks even, then I’ll
consider that a success.
In the meantime, the experiment continues, and this issue is an
experiment within an experiment. The centerpiece of this issue is
Garrett Calcaterra’s “The Key Ring” which, at 21,000 words, is as long
as anything we’re ever going to publish. As a counterbalance (and to
keep the contents page from appearing too bare), the remainder of the
issue is filled with stories under 2,500 words. Let us know if that kind
of balance works for you, and what you want to see more of in the
2 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 3
She came to John each night. In his dreams? He did not know. He
knew every inch of her body, from the hair that was cut uneven yet
shown like dark silk in the moonlight, to the shoes she wore on her
small feet. Once they must have been beautiful. Now the toes were
ragged, a flap hanging down from each. The soles he saw when she
lifted up on those toes (no, it was when she lifted up on the wind) were
spotted and worn. The shoes said she had been dancing for a long
time. John placed a palm against the window sill. Not that he needed
the shoes to tell him that. The expression on her face made that fact
just as clear.
She was young. Her lips held the freshness of cherry blossoms; her
skin, unflushed despite the exercise, made a pale and smooth canvas.
There were only two things that might make him question this. One was
her movements, the practiced sway and dip, the purpose and the
perfection and yet with a certain carelessness that came every now and
again. The other was her eyes. He'd only seen them once, when she
twirled underneath a streetlight. Her lashes were long and dark and
they rose just slightly. Her mouth was smiling. Her eyes were not. They
were anticipatory and yet not hopeful. Wistful, he might say if the day
was sunny. Mournful he might say if it was raining. Their color: It's
funny but he didn't remember.
It rained now. He moved his fingers back and forth along the
window sill. He wanted to call out to her. He wanted to sigh. He
wanted to moan, to do something about this soreness, this ache that
took over his body when he saw her. He wanted to ask why his mind
went hazy, why she appeared to be bathed in a grayish blue fog.
Instead he clasped the sill with his hands. The metal was hot, not cool
against his palms.
It was seven more days before John removed those palms, before
he stepped from the window while she was still dancing and began to
move toward the apartment door. It was seven days before he took the
risk and he almost found himself running back. An alarm in his head
cried out to stay. An alarm in his head told him she would go. She
would leave. She would disappear from his life and he would never see
her again. It felt heretical. Her dancing, her form in the moonlight had
become a sacred sight, and to disturb that sight with base touch,
something he knew he'd have trouble refraining from, would be wrong.
She was still there. Her being shimmered and swayed. Her foot
kicked high behind her. She spun and she jumped. Surprisingly, there
was no sound as her feet connected with the concrete. He stepped
toward her slowly.
“Hello,” he said.
For the first time in the week that he'd been watching her, the dark
haired woman fell.
“Whoa,” he said, and reached out to steady her. His fingers never
connected. One minute she was falling and he had his hand behind her
back. He had just enough time to register her expression as her face
turned toward him and then she was gone, dissolved into the air. What
he saw in that face, however, stayed. What he saw in that face made
him watch the ground for shadows as he walked to work the next day,
made him check behind the shower curtain before he unzipped himself
in the bathroom. What he saw in that face was something he'd never
seen before in his life: pure and absolute horror.
Her eyes widened until they looked as if they were going to pop.
Her mouth parted to reveal blood where she'd bitten into her lip and
her teeth were displayed so prominently they reminded him of
skeletons. For the first time he'd heard her make a sound, a single gasp
that in one moment revealed more than could have come from a dozen
screams. He had wondered before, before he even went out, if she was
a dream. She had seemed too perfect to be real. And now that was
confirmed, because real people didn’t disappear. She was a dream. The
knowledge did not comfort him as he thought it would. She was a
dream and yet that dream haunted him.
John closed the drapes across the window. He didn't approach it
for days. A can of soda he'd set on the sill before going out to see her
was still there when he did, ants gulping the last of the sticky sweet
fluid. Which led to the question, if she was a dream and the soda was
on the sill, did it mean he was sleepwalking? He picked up the can and
headed for the kitchen, a line of ants marching across his knuckles. At
the doorway he glanced back, and the hand holding the soda fell to his
side. The drapes were open. On the other side of the glass the woman
4 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 5
The window was cracked, cold air rushing through, and on the air
came the sound of her pain. On the breeze came a sob. When he
reached the window, approaching carefully lest she disappear as she
had before, he noticed another new development, one that caused him
to grip the sill in a new way. She wasn't wearing shoes. The ancient
shoes with the ancient soles were gone. She danced barefoot beneath
the streetlamp and the light, instead of bouncing off of her hair now
bounced off of her feet and the blood that coated them.
He'd thought her feet were small and delicate. They were raw and red,
and through the medium of blood becoming redder. He no longer
wanted to go out to her. Despite the fairytales of prince charmings
rushing to save their injured maidens, the sight of the blood made him
step away and not forward. It made bile rise in his throat. Because she
was still dancing. Even as her feet left bloody prints on the pavement
(prints that mysteriously disappeared soon after she moved), she
twirled and dipped.
When he finally did wrench his gaze up toward her face it was the
sight of blood once again that greeted him. A tiny trail made its way
from her mouth down to her chin, as if she were a vampire that forgot
to clean herself off after her last meal. He didn't bother to look into her
eyes. The magnetism of the night before was broken. All he could think
of was the blood and the insane dancing.
It was a dream, John reminded himself when he woke in the
morning. He reminded himself again as he twisted the faucet for the
shower and felt the hot water hit his back, washing away the stench of
sweat that coated his body. It was a horrible recurring dream.
He tried to distract himself by turning on the television. There was
an Ecoli scare surrounding a local restaurant, and a nineteen year old
woman had gone missing. He watched the stories in spurts. His mind
kept returning to the dream.
He went to the library that day, calling in sick for work. He looked
up dreams in the catalog and made his way to the unusually large
section it referred him to.
Dictionaries of symbols that were supposed to appear in dreams,
accounts of famous dreams that influenced history, dreams and rituals
of the Native American Indians. It took him all afternoon to find what
he was searching for. When he finally found what he was looking for
it was one lonely chapter stuffed inside a larger tome. Titled “How to
Excise a Recurring Dream,” it was the kind of new age bullshit that he
would have laughed at the week before. Now he devoured each word.
The thrust was simple. If you could realize you were dreaming you
could take control of that dream. Do something outlandish, turn the
dream in a completely different direction, and the dream would be
excised. There would be no more reason for your mind to play it. He
thought about this, kicking stones on the sidewalk as he went home.
When she came that night he had an ax.
His gut felt tight but his insides loose, as if something was in there
wanting to get out. He hefted the ax. His mind had captured it so well
in this dream he saw the line of rust along the edges of the blade from
being left in the shed out back. He felt the roughness of the wood
handle. He smelled mold from the corner where it had lain. That scent
clung to the ax as if it were the material out of which it had been
forged. His fingers shook as he walked toward her. He heard a crack
of thunder and it began to rain.
John sensed someone else on the street. A neighbor he'd never met,
a blond haired woman in a green bathrobe, arranged trash cans on the
curb two houses down. He slunk into the shadow of the porch and
waited for her to finish. Crazy, he knew, but even in the dream he felt
the need to be careful. When the woman was done and had retreated
inside, he left the porch and wandered toward the dark haired dancer
again. Mi morena, he thought, his dark haired beauty. Despite the
horror she brought with her he would hate to see her go. When he
reached her she was pirouetting, her bloody feet causing the movement
to be jerky and off balance. When he lifted the ax, she stopped.
“You can't see me,” he said. “You don't know I'm here. You're a
figment of my imagination.” He raised the ax. The rain pounded at his
skull. The cool air wrapped itself around his wrists. Whoosh.
“No!” The ax slid into her side, and she screamed.
He jumped back. His pulse raced so fast he felt dizzy, like he was
a kid again at the fair and on one of the rides, spinning around and
around, sliding upside down so his stomach let loose and vomit fell
with his pocket change to the ground.
The ax lodged in her body. Her eyes, which he noticed for the first
time were a dark brown, were wide and scared as they had been the
night before. A surge went through him.
“I'm sorry,” he started before catching himself. He pulled the ax
free, wrenching it from her flesh, watching the red of her blood begin to
dye her dress and drip toward the ground. When the ax came free it
came with a jerk and a squirt he heard as much as he saw. His own
shirt became dyed to match her clothing, as if they were a couple
6 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 7
wearing complimentary costumes for Halloween. He reached toward
her body where the blood was gushing. Then he brought the hand back
to the ax. This was a dream. She wasn't real. Any other alternative was
more than he could handle, more than he could accept. He raised the
The ax sliced into her right kneecap, a deliberate attack to the part
of her body that enabled her dancing and thus enabled her to make
him ache. She reached for her wound, bending so her hair hung toward
the ground, her hands and her face hidden behind. Her movement kept
him from seeing any additional features his dreaming mind might have
included, a mouth open wide in a sob, color drained from her cheeks
so what looked like porcelain before would now look ashy. Freedom!
He hacked off one leg and then, when she fell, he hacked at the other.
Bone was hard. His ax was sharper.
It was the most bizarre dream he'd ever had. She lay before him,
a mannequin taken apart, a body devoid of legs, legs devoid of a body.
He never remembered the dream after that, whether he'd gone inside
or cleared her away, maybe placed her in the blond neighbor’s trash
can. All he remembered of the end of the dream were the legs and their
worn and battered feet, the feet of a dancer.
John watched the news again the next day. The body of the
nineteen year old girl who disappeared had been found. Her name was
Maria Rodriguez, a prima ballerina who disappeared after a show. Her
body had been found in the basement of a suburban home, the police
having been called out due to strange noises and a neighbor’s
suspicion of domestic violence. The owner of the house admitted his
He took her, the man on the television said, so he could watch her
dance. A cattle prod was found in the vicinity of the body. There were
burn marks on her skin.
The only odd thing was that the man who admitted to kidnapping
and torturing her claimed he didn’t kill her, and although the body was
mutilated, both legs cut off at the knee, those legs had not been found.
He saw the news and he chalked it up to coincidence. Either that
or he was still dreaming. John went to the living room window. He
reached to open the drapes. He smelled blood before he saw the
stumps. Both severed legs dropped from behind the drapes. He knelt.
He didn’t touch the bloody stumps. He touched the heel of the nearest
foot, felt a blister beneath his fingers, and imagined a pair of pink ballet
shoes encasing the toes.*
8 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 9
What Friends Are For
I watched the wizard sitting among the trash cans in the alley, the
sleeve of his threadbare robe rolled up over a thin bicep. He lifted his
wand, muttered the cantrip, and jabbed the tip of the wand into the
vein in the crook of his elbow. His grimace relaxed and he exhaled a
sigh. His wand fell from nerveless fingers and clattered softly to the
pavement like a discarded chopstick as he nodded off. The kid couldn’t
have been more than twelve. Burning himself out already. What a
I walked on. Doper kids are a sad bunch, but mostly they just hurt
themselves. I had other fish to fry.
As I continued deeper into the alley, Furnunculus made some
grumbling movement against my thigh. He made the sounds you’d
expect from a gagged hostage. I lifted the small lead totem out of my
pocket. He picked up on everything I could see, so I expected he had
some wry, embittered criticism to offer on the state of kids these days.
His eyes swivelled toward my own, the irises black holes dug into
the metal orbs. The totem was warm with life.
“What are you going on about?” I asked.
“The world would be so much better without any magic.” His
ridiculous lead nose overhung his mouth, and it wobbled with each
I smiled. “You know, you’re arguing against your own existence,
One eye rolled forward in a complete revolution, a movement I
recognized as a wink. “Oh I’d exist, alright. But not like this.”
The life leached out of the small lead face. The warmth faded and
he became an inert thing again. I palmed him and placed him back in
my pocket, where he bounced against my leg with every step. The
weight on my thigh wasn’t actually comfortable, but I know I’d feel odd
without it. Like leaving the house without wearing my wristwatch.
The lowering Tucson sky threatened rain. The dark clouds covered
the firmament from horizon to horizon, but so far, the ground was still
dry. Late July already, and the year’s monsoon still hadn’t delivered on
any of its precipitative promises. Still, the clouds swirled slowly
overhead, churning like the contents of a cauldron. A storm would be
nice. Tamp down the road dust at least for a while, and relieve some of
this infernal heat.
The alley ended in a cinderblock wall. Various graffiti tags
competed for attention with fluorescent spraypaint and garish forms.
Some of the runes were specifically designed to induce nausea. Why
these kids would invest the time just to make someone feel sick is
One sign did stand out as different. Looking at it made me feel cold.
It was a sigil. To those few that could understand the overlapping
symbology, it was a sigil of great power. I didn’t really get the outer
ring of ideograms, but it had the smell of a protective ward. Walt told
me when I left the office that the guy who etched this onto the cinder-
block was someone who needed to be put down like some kind of mad
dog. I’d thought Walt was kidding, but now I wasn’t sure what to think.
This guy was fiddling in old magic, and some of the things from the bad
old days could destroy the world. Literally.
And that would really suck.
I could see where the spell was overlapped by a regular tag, and I
knew whoever had placed that one had died a horrible death.
So the sigil was there, exactly where Walt had said it would
probably be. That didn’t bode well.
I reached into my jacket and retrieved the clicker. It was an oblong
slip of rubber, with a pair of metal plates inside. I pressed on it until the
plates clicked together, held the image of the office lobby in my mind,
and stepped forward.
The office slammed into place around me, and my ears popped.
The air conditioning was chilly against my skin. Sharon, the girl Walt
had hired to answer the phone, looked up disinterestedly. Her jaw
worked slowly, automatically, snapping her gum.
“Hey Steve,” she said, barely staying awake. Her bleached hair
looked stiff, like those thin white oriental noodles before they get
“Sharon. Walt still here?”
“Uhh.” She looked lost.
“This is the only door into the office.”
10 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 11
“Never mind. I’ll check.”
I shouldered my way through the door, and found Walt already
getting into the booze. He’d fallen off the wagon again, but whatever.
He functioned well enough on the job, and with this job, anything that
got him through the night was fine with me.
He looked up at me, tried on a guilty look, then thought better of
it. He poured a few fingers of amber liquid into a tall glass.
“Care to join me?”
“Nah. Still on the clock.”
“Suit yourself,” he smiled as he sat back with the glass.
“I just wanted to check the map again. The last sigil checked out.”
“Yeesh. That means he’s all set up.”
He snapped his fingers, and the surface of the desk lit up with the
crosshatched map of downtown. A few grunts and whistles, and the
map zoomed down to the scale we needed. Twenty sigils, spaced
evenly on walls all across downtown.
Walt summoned an overlay of the town’s ley lines, and did a few
calculations. The nexus of power in the lines fell nowhere close to the
geographic center of the layout of the sigils. It was far to the south, near
one of the reservation casinos. I was pretty familiar with that one, and
not because I had a weakness for Let It Ride or Texas Hold ‘Em. One
of the Blackjack dealers was a green-eyed redhead who knew how to
make a guy smile.
“How much time?”
“Full moon will be in the right constellation around dusk. About a
fifteen-minute window that’ll open in half an hour.”
As he spoke, a pale white globe rose from the desk’s horizon, and
arced through nearly eighty degrees.
“Guess I’d better get going, then.”
“Take your wand. This guy means business.”
“Got it,” I said as I patted my shoulder holster, making the tip of
the wand dig into my belt.
“Good luck, Steve.”
I left his office, and in the lobby I popped the clicker. I stepped
instantly into the foyer at Apache Flats Casino. The cascade of coins,
the music of the slot machines, and the flashing lights were a little
overwhelming after the quiet of the office. Old ladies who’d already
converted their pension checks into big plastic cups of silver dollars
waddled from machine to machine, feeding coins into several simulta¬
neously. What the hell, I thought. Someone’s got to win, right?
I exited the building, and the heat hit me like a hammer. Overhead,
thick clouds tumbled over, under, and through one another. Heavy, fat,
black clouds. They seemed to look smug about holding back the rain.
The sun was nowhere in sight, but I knew it must be nearing the
western horizon by now.
My pocket warmed up, and I felt more than heard Furn talking.
“What?” I asked as I lifted him into view.
“Every time you use that clicker thing, I get dizzy as hell.”
“That’s not even possible. You don’t have an inner ear.”
His nostrils flared as he smiled. “And yet, I hear every word you
say. Neat how that works, huh?”
“Furn, I’m going to need you on this one. Keep an eye out for me,
“Can do. Listening to you and Walt, it sounds pretty serious. You’re
out of your depth, pard.”
“Thanks for your vote of confidence.”
“Hey,” he smiled, “what are friends for?”
I shucked him back into my pocket, and made my way out of the
parking lot and down the street. Minutes later, I was standing outside
an old warehouse. The rusted chain on the door had recently been cut
through, and the doorpost was spattered ritualistically with blood.
“This looks like the place.” I sighed, then opened the door.
The floor of the warehouse was huge. The middle of the room was
wide open and cleared out, except for several fat candles in a ring in
the center. Just outside the ring of candles, a bald man knelt.
The door closed behind me, echoing through the cavernous
warehouse. The man looked up, smiling a zealot’s smile.
“Welcome, brother, to the birth of the future.”
“Let’s not count those chickens just yet, nut bag.” I reached under
my jacket for my wand, but before I could draw it, the man spoke
“Before? But the spell is cast! It’s done. It’s already begun to
happen! Prepare to bask in the glories of the new God!”
Even as he spoke, the thin candle flames stretched upward. Like
cords, the flames stretched up and up, dividing, turning over each
other, and weaving together as they lengthened. After only a few
seconds, the weaving began to take shape. A big shape.
I gestured with my wand, hoping to cut off whatever it was from its
12 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 13
source. The candles flew from their places across the room, but the
flames continued to grow from the same points. They’d already burned
through to the other side of reality, and whatever was coming through
was feeding the flames. I began to discern its arms and legs as the thin
flames continued their infernal weaving.
“Yes! Yes! Come forth, my Lord!” The bald man was in a religious
ecstasy, shrieking his love and devotion to this thing emerging into the
world. His arms waved over his head as he danced some jittery, spastic
The cords of flame spun faster, weaving the body of the thing. Like
some huge scorpion, the thing had many legs and a pair of claws slung
low and forward. As the form grew more and more complete, the
flames dimmed and disappeared altogether. The red, chitinous
carapace of the beast gleamed as though lit from within, and threads
of fire skated across the surface.
I threw an icy blast from my wand, but it quickly diminished to
steam with no effect on the creature.
The bald man laughed at my efforts. His laugh abruptly turned into
a scream of agony as the creature seized him in one of its claws. It
squeezed, and the man vomited a gush of blood. Raising the man high
into the air, the creature negligently flexed its claw again. The bald man
fell in two gore streaked pieces to thud meatily on the cement floor of
“Wanted: one high priest. Immediate opening available. Apply in
person.” The wand was slippery in my sweaty palm. I sent a jet of fire
into the beast, to no avail. The fire got its attention, though, and its
heavy steps toward me sent tiny chips of concrete flying in all direc¬
tions. I dove behind a stack of pallets.
“Furn! Any advice would be really appreciated here!”
With my off hand, I pulled the totem from my pocket.
“Got your gun?”
“Shoot a creature from the netherworld with a gun? Crazy talk! I’m
“Do it! You know as well as I do it’s never been just silver bullets
that do the job. Purity is the killer of these things! Pure silver, pure lead,
pure love, whatever you’ve got! Use it!”
I drew down on the creature. Not knowing where to go for the
killshot, I emptied the magazine into the area of its face.
It raised itself on a couple of pairs of hind legs and roared in anger
and pain. Gouts of some pus-colored fluid leaked from its head onto
the concrete floor, where it bubbled and smoked. A gigantic claw
smashed down onto the pallets, turning them into splinters and
sawdust, and I ran. As I ran, I socked home my other magazine and
cocked the pistol.
On the far side of the room, panting, I stopped behind a rusty
I-beam and tried to steady myself. The creature saw me and strode
forward with its pile driver steps. The claw grabbed the I-beam and bit
into it, the steel squealing in protest. I raised my pistol to the joint just
behind the claw, and fired twice.
The creature yanked itself back with another earsplitting roar,
leaving the claw attached to the I-beam, streamers of connective tissue
hanging from the ruined joint.
The rest of the bullets in the gun went into the face again, and the
creature, at last, began to back away. The bilious yellow blood began
to flow more freely from its wounds, and it staggered as it walked.
It looked hurt, but by then I realized my own mistake. Both of the
magazines that I usually carried were emptied. My wand did nothing
to the beast, and if I didn’t kill it, Walt had said we could look forward
to a thousand years of Old Testament-style wrath and torture.
When it saw that my shots had stopped, it grew bolder. The
creature came forward, warily this time, sidling through its own acidic
Furnunculus was talking again.
“Finish it off! Do it!”
“Can’t. I’m null and void. No ammo.”
“Purity! Anything pure!”
“Like I said, I’m tapped out.”
I’d nearly made up my mind to just haul ass out of there and fight
it some other day, when Furn spoke again.
“Pure anything. One more hit should do the trick, Steve.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m pure lead. Probably purer than those bullets you’ve been
using. Hit it with me.”
“Furn! I can’t do that! You’re my friend!”
“If you don’t kill it, you will be responsible for everything it does.
All the destruction, all the killing, everything! You’ve got to stop it.
We’ve got to stop it.”
“But Furn,” I started. My throat grew tight.
14 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 15
“Steve, throw me hard and throw me straight. Let’s kill this thing.”
My vision starred and doubled. The tears were sudden and hot.
Furnunculus and I had been through so much over the years. We were
friends, buddies, comrades-in-arms. We were brothers.
“Do it, Steve.”
I sighed, knowing he was right. I wiped my eyes as I stepped out
from behind the I-beam, and I lined up on the creature. Just as Furn
instructed, I threw him hard and straight. I thought I heard him laugh,
exultant, as he flew through the air.
He struck the beast perfectly between the eyes, and that’s when the
bellowing truly started. The creature clawed at its head as it roared,
then tried to rub its face against the concrete to get rid of the horrible
pain. It trembled, shrieking, then collapsed onto its own legs. The roar
of its agony was nearly deafening.
Several minutes later, it shuddered and died, and its body began
to disintegrate immediately. I stood, put my wand back into its holster,
and made my way back to the door.
The obtrusive weight I’d grown so used to having in my front
pocket was missing, and with it, one of my closest friends. He was
gone. The space Furn was supposed to occupy, both in my pocket and
somewhere deeper inside me, was empty.
Who knows, maybe it wasn’t just pure lead that did the beast in.
Outside, the rain finally began to fall on Tucson as I walked back
down the block toward the casino. It wasn’t a cleansing rain, but
looking rained-on sure beat looking like I’d been crying.*
16 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Coming in 2009 from Bad Moon Books
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The Adventures of Mr Maximillian Bacchus
and his Travelling Circus
by Clive Barker
Trade edition, 1500 copies
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150 copies, $50
Arkham Tales , February 2009 17
The Might Guest
I woke from fitful slumber to the faint tickle of a spider picking its way
up my forearm. Blinking sleep from my eyes, I shifted upright to get a
better look at the delicate intruder. As if sensing my attention, the
spider froze, one translucent leg aloft, the other seven camouflaged
among the wispy hairs of my arm.
Last summer, I’d sealed the house with pitch—every crack and
every crevice. Spiders, insects, and the like had been infrequent visitors
ever since, but this fellow was small enough that he might easily have
thieved a ride, unnoticed, on the cuff of my pants. Presently, I was
more concerned with how he would exit the place, and reached for a
handkerchief to expedite the matter.
Across the room, the curtains twitched and billowed, and I felt the
chill of night air. The window sash was raised several inches. Strange,
I thought. It explained the spider, but I was sure I hadn’t opened it.
Fully awake now, I looked around the room, increasingly aware of
a soft scraping sound. The long window bent moonlight askant floor
and wall, and I blinked at what I saw in the ambient glow.
My timepiece was moving slowly across the dresser, seeming to
float just above the wood and dragging its chain like a long, limp tail.
The timepiece was not alone. Squinting, I recognized two jeweled rings
following a short distance behind, gliding just above the dresser
A sudden clatter to my right. I started at the noise, then settled
when I saw the cause of it: my reading glasses had fallen from the
nightstand. I leaned over the edge of the bed to collect them, but before
I could, they jerked tipsily into motion and retreated beyond my reach.
As I stared, disbelieving, they continued to inch across the floor in
eager starts and stops, lenses facing down, as if bent to the scrutiny of
some blind text etched upon the planks.
A dream, I told myself. A hallucination.
But somehow I knew it wasn’t so. Even as I watched my glasses’
progress, the toe of one of my slippers pushed out from under the bed.
I waited until the entire slipper was in view, then reached down
and seized it, pulling it to my chest. The floor beneath was marked with
a dark stain, which began to dissipate almost immediately, scattering
in all directions. Part of the stain moved into the silver rectangle of
moonlight and I recognized a familiar shape: spiders. Spiders by the
My timepiece had almost reached the edge of the dresser. I flung
the slipper at it, but missed high; the leather sole slapped against the
wall and the slipper dropped down behind the furniture. Undeterred,
the timepiece began to scale the curtain, ascending the fabric cau¬
tiously but determinedly toward the open window.
I felt a sharp prick on my forearm. The solitary spider, which I’d
quite forgotten, had returned my attack in kind and now was fleeing
along my wrist. Quick as it was, my free hand was quicker, and the
flesh-on-flesh sound of its end echoed in the chamber.
I picked the crushed black shape from my skin and flung it to the
floor, then swung out of bed. I felt uneasy about my bare feet with so
many spiders about, but didn’t see the point of putting on just one
The timepiece had already passed beyond the windowsill and out
of view. I forced the window open as far as the frame would bear and
swept my hand along the side of the house below. Leaning further out,
I looked down, and a chill gripped my heart.
In the yard below, a man stood by the leaning willow. He was thin
and ragged, clad in a traveler’s cloak, and lank hair obscured his face.
He whistled a low, toneless note, yet never he stopped to breathe. At
his feet was a large square of coarse fabric, and on it were spread
several of my belongings: my wallet, a pair of gloves, a book I’d left
upon the desk.
“You there!” I shouted. “Whatever trick you’re playing, stop at
A clinking sound drew my attention back inside the room. The two
rings were just about to reach the curtain, and I swatted them with the
back of my hand, sending the rings and several thick-legged spiders
skittering back across the dresser. My reading glasses halted halfway
across the floor, their lenses now angled upward so that they seemed
to be taking my measure. I took a single step toward them, and they
scuttled back out of range.
I turned back to the window as the man stepped forward into full
18 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 19
moonlight. He raised his head, and his hair fell back to reveal a gaunt
face and eyes glazed with cataracts. He kept whistling that unwavering
note, which seemed kin to a chill autumn wind, born from dark places
and whispering of ruin.
“You can’t take those things,” I yelled. “Toss them backup here. I’ll
have the wallet first.” His appearance troubled me, and I did not want
to go downstairs to confront him on even ground.
The stranger’s milky eyes tracked slowly upward until they found
mine. His whistling lowered in pitch, wavering, then trailed off. Though
the sound had only lingered at the edge of perception, in its absence
the world seemed unnaturally still, as if cricket and night bird alike had
been ushered away or bidden to keep their peace. The visitor raised a
hand to point, and moonlight glinted off the crescent curve of a knife
“Ought to take care of that wound,” he said. His voice was a
ragged croak. “Looks bad.”
I touched my arm where the spider had bitten me, and winced. The
wound was now an inch-wide gash; blood ran down my forearm and
had begun to drip from my fingertips. I clamped my hand over the
injury. When I looked at the man again, I noticed that his knife tip bore
a dark stain.
“I’ll shut the window,” I called, my voice rising, becoming less my
own. “You’ll get no more from me.”
But as I reached to grasp the sash, I felt a tickle upon my neck.
Other tickles followed as spiders settled on my feet, legs, and chest,
bumps moving beneath my nightshirt. I stiffened at the sensation.
The man’s lips curled into something resembling a smile. He
tapped the knife lightly against his throat, the threat in the gesture
unmistakable. “Best let them come. Their sting’s nastier than it seems.”
Then he inclined his head, stepped back into the shadow of the willow,
and the whistling began anew. Around me, I sensed the spiders
resuming their raid, all but the one perched on my throat. One of its
legs had begun to drum rhythmically against my larynx. Without
seeing, I knew that the man beneath the willow kept the knife’s edge to
his own throat, tapping the same slow beat.
My arm was still bleeding badly. Carefully, keeping my neck as
straight as possible, I stepped back from the window and bound my
wound in a folded length of bed sheet. After that, I could only watch as
the spiders hunted, moving freely from room to room, taking everything
they could bear upon their backs. When the thief’s fabric was covered
20 Arkham Tales, February 2009
three times over with my possessions both valuable and worthless, he
brought up all four corners and twisted them together. The resulting
sack bulged so grotesquely, I thought he’d never lift it. But he did,
slinging it over his shoulder as if it were a child’s thing.
The instant he turned away, I reached for the spider upon my
throat, wanting nothing so much as to hurl it down and crush it
underfoot. But even as he fled the yard, the man raised the crescent
blade high overhead, and the sight of it stopped my hand. He headed
for the woods, and the ground itself seemed to trail after him like a
cloak—so legion were his followers. When he had gained the treeline,
the remaining spider suddenly leapt to the curtain, then to the
windowsill, and into the night, hurrying after its master. And I was left
bleeding by the open window, sentry to a chill and empty room. •
Coming April 1,2009
for the Call of Cthulhu®
A contemporary adventure for Call of
Cthulhu from master scenarist Kevin
Ross, author of Kingsport, City in the Mists,
Escape from InnsmoutK Sacraments of Evil
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"An apartment building haunted by some¬
thing that taunts, and tempts—and kills../'
"A lonely desert where the wind whispers
and the borders of reality fade../'
"A flood-drenched town stalked by ghosts
and other, more solid nightmares../'
$34.95 plus S&H. approx. 176 pages.
Arkham Tales , February 2009 21
Somewhere in the South Pacific, hidden in the ocean vast where it is
surrounded by nothing else, lies a tiny atoll said to be haunted with the
memories of demons. Cold and barren, composed entirely of rock, it is
a place with no name and no inhabitants; no one ever goes there unless
they have to—to fix the antenna housed at the top of a giant transmis¬
On a night when the clouds hid the stars, and in the darkened sky
only the moon shone through, there came a violent burst from below
the earth’s crust that shook the waters and a scarlet red exploded from
out of the sea, spewing molten stone and pumice. Soon the moon had
disappeared and an island stood where placid waters once rippled in
gentle repose. The wind howled and lightning flared across the
heavens. For just an instant a tomb was exposed. Upon a naked slab
of stone lay a casket.
The long rest hadn’t done Cthulhu any good. The nightmares had
come back. Where once his dreams had filled the minds of his
followers, influencing them in the ways of the Mythos, now he could
not get past that ever-present voice that clouded his head.
“Ask Miss Clio. She knows everythin darlin. Ya might think ya
been fooling everyone. But the devil himself is on to ya, and only Miss
Clio knows what to do. The stars don ’tlie. Let me chart them for you.
You’ll be shocked to know what I already know. Just pick up the phone
and ask for Miss Clio. You ’ll be connected immediately. Ya ha ven ’t a
minute to lose. Call her. She’s waiting for ya. ’’
It was the same thing every time R’lyeh rose. His mind would go
blank and then he’d hear naught but that wretched woman with her
in-and-out-of-it Jamaican accent, and see those arms outstretched, a
crystal ball between her cupped hands. His every waking thought was
of her. She was everywhere, bombarding both the TV and the radio
with her ads. It was Miss Clio this, and Miss Clio that. There were
simply no stations she wasn’t on. Even the Internet offered no refuge.
Many was the time that Cthulhu had brought an ISP to a crawl with the
response from followers to his queries, but now his mailbox was filled
with nothing other than the spam from (and for) Miss Clio. And those
pop-up windows in his browser were enough to drive a sane man mad,
let alone a God.
Damn that Azathoth. Not only was he a blind idiot, filled with
babble and blasphemous thought, he was a bungler, too. The idea of
CHAOS—concentrated havoc attacking orderly systems— was meant
to tear down the structures man needed to survive. That was the
purpose of the plan. And when a city was created from whence to
practice and it was named the same, that, too, made sense. But no form
of chaos was supposed to wreak such mayhem on the ancient ones. Or
so it had been decreed. And it was not to be in the hands of mortals.
Yet there, along side the fine print of the psychic’s disclaimer, was the
copyright for Azathoth Promotions. The idiot had commercialized his
concept for chaos, created a generic package, and was selling it on the
market. The whole thing had given Cthulhu a headache the size of a
hidden universe, one that was spinning out of control. And there
seemed to be nothing he could do about it.
Escape was impossible. The old ways no longer worked. He had
lost his taste for the simple things. Drinking blood and gnawing on
human bones made him queasy. It was hard to believe that he’d once
feasted on them. And countless shots of finely aged brandy accom¬
Perhaps his brother, Cthugha, had been right. Retirement no longer
seemed to be a curse. Besides, those fire vampires sure could dance the
Watusi. He started to smile at the thought and then his head began to
“Are ya calling Miss Clio? Hoot, mon. Ya can’t help yourself. Only
Miss Clio has the power. And she’s waiting for ya. Call her now. ’’
Blast that witch! Why wouldn’t she leave him alone? Couldn’t she
tell what she was doing to him? He wanted to scream. Or to push the
island back under the sea, where he could sleep and hide. But it was
too early for that. The stars were not yet realigned for it. His casket
amply stocked, he opened a dark beer for a chaser and began to
Lost in thought, he almost missed the phone. It was Yig.
“I just caught the news and noticed that R’lyeh had risen. The stock
is selling for a profit today. It was in the green. I’m thinking of shorting
22 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 23
“That’s nice, Yig. But I don’t really care. I’m sure it’ll be in the red
tomorrow. I’ve got other problems.” Then he related his tale of woe.
Though Yig listened carefully, he didn’t appear overly bothered.
“It’s not as bad as what happened to the snake I left in Mr. Eden’s
garden, but I’m sorry to hear it. We Gods have to stick together. Want
me to send over one of my snake dancers?”
A pang of ennui passed through Cthulhu. Here was yet another
diversion he had tired of.
“Thanks. But I want to be left alone.”
“What about hiring a lawyer and getting an injunction? Surely there
has to be a way you can stop that woman from her incessant yammer¬
ing. Maybe I’ll join you for a class action suit.”
Letting loose a sigh, Cthulhu, high priest of the Old Ones, noted how
far they’d fallen. Hiring a lawyer was a low mark indeed for a God. A
breed to be avoided; even the devil himself stayed away from them.
Though they were fashionably garbed, cloaked in the letter of the law,
lawyers were a curse upon the very people they were supposed to
represent. He had not forgotten the indignity of having to hock his bat
wings to pay for court fees. Damn that last barrister and his accursed
work! Why couldn’t that part of the past stay buried?
Not that it mattered. Cthulhu knew well of the way of justice, there
was none. That was part of the plan. And it had worked. It was all
mumbo jumbo. But now he rued a past he once ruled. He needed help
and it wasn’t there to be found. A lawyer was not the answer.
“Mon! Have ya not been listening? Miss Clio is still waiting for ya.
Time is fleeting. And Miss Clio knows what ails ya. Only she can cure
ya. Pick up the phone. Do it, Mon. Ya won’t be sorry. ”
He was already sorry, and he didn’t think he could take it anymore.
Slamming the phone down in anger, he disconnected himself from Yig.
There would be plenty of time for crashing markets. Then, grimacing
and mumbling an incantation old as the stars themselves, he lifted the
receiver and unleashed a primordial scream from a faded bag of tricks.
A bolt of lightning struck the earth near him. It left a note. It was
from Miss Clio. Then everything disappeared in a cloud of cannabis.
He was suddenly sitting at a table with a Rastafarian, the scent of
marijuana and incense wafting through the room.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the Rasta Man, and I’ve come to prepare ya for Miss Clio.”
“Where are we? And how did I get here?”
“We are inside your head. It’s a place ya can’t escape from.”
“Inside my head?” He was shocked. “How can that be?Have my
powers all left me? Where are my followers?” The Rasta Man smiled
and lit up another spliff. He took a deep drag and offered it to Cthulhu.
A tentacle reached out reflexively.
Stopping himself short, the green being with the head of an octopus
blinked, not once, but twice.
“Don’t you know who I am?” he shouted.
“Mon, ya don’ have ta yell. No wonder you’ve come to Miss Clio.
Ya bin tied up in knots.”
It was true. He could control his body no longer. His appendages
were twisted and overlaid. His bat wings had been shorn, and the nails
of his talons clipped. Powerless to protest, he felt himself getting giggly.
The smoke from the jay was giving him a contact high.
When R’lyeh next rose, there was an empty and opened coffin lying
upon a stone slab. Beside it lay a cadaver unlike any other. Green and
slimy, its head was that of an octopus with a dozen tentacles. Wrapped
around its back was a pair of shorn bat wings. Instead of hands it had
talons, the fingernails of which had been clipped. And on its feet, was
a pair of sandals.
An engineer was looking at the body. Opening its mouth, he was
struck by the scent of good sensimillion.
“Looks and smells like he died happy,” said his partner. “But who
“His name was Cthulhu. He was one of the high priests of a race of
great old ones. But his time had passed him by. He no longer had the
ability to fill men’s minds with dark images, and was feared no more.
It had been said that he would yet rise from out of the waters and his
minions would once again rule the Earth.”
“Really? How do you know all this?”
“My great-great grandfather belonged to his cult. I come from a
long line of druids.”
“As I said, times have changed. There’s too much static and
interference in the airwaves today for that kind of thought sharing.”
He shrugged his shoulders and adjusted an infrared light.
“Do you see that receiver over there?” He pointed towards the open
coffin. It was equipped with the most modern of conveniences. Air
conditioned and centrally heated, it had a wide screen TV and a cable
24 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 25
“This all looks pretty high tech.”
“It is. The Gods were very wealthy beings. They lived and died in
“Isn’t that the way of it? We’re just a couple of poor working stiffs.
But what’s that got to do with this?”
“It was the cable feed. He ordered a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week feed
of Dark Shadows. But someone frakked it and he was instead getting
a continuous feed of some commercial. It finally shorted out and that’s
why we’re here.”
Flipping the lid of the coffin so that it was upside down, the
engineer pulled off a panel. Then he opened a plastic container and slid
into his hand a network card wrapped in its covering. It read: Cable
Linked Imaging Overlay. After removing and tossing aside some
charred chips, he took the covering off and slid the card into an open
slot. Then his partner entered a code on a notebook and the receiver
began to hum.
“What do we do with the body?”
“We’ll put him back in and close it up. He’s still got a contract. At
least that way the feed will have an audience.”
It wasn’t too much later that the engineers left, the transmission
continuing. And this story could have ended there. But as it so
happens, there’s an unpublished legend in the Necronomicon that
somewhere, deep in the Pacific, an ancient one, with the head of an
octopus, dances the Watusi with a Rasta woman. And one day,
everyone else will do it too.*
26 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Compositions in Gratitude and Sorrow
It occurred to him, as he bit into a mango that burned the cracks in his
lips, that he was having trouble remembering his own name. He
paused in his chewing, the stinging all around his mouth getting
savage, and it came into focus. Geoff Hayden. He still couldn’t
remember the fiddler’s name, though, or when he’d hired him to
serenade his meals.
Geoff lifted a chalice heavy with fluid, hoping to wash the citrus
from his lips, and managed to dribble down his shirtfront. Every cup
seemed cracked and his clothes were scored with stains. The fiddler
watched him with great gray eyes amidst scalloped rills of flesh, but
never wavered in the slow sweep of his bow hand.
Geoff fidgeted, ashamed of the mess, and snatched a dark red
drumstick from a platter steaming with them. He tore the meat with his
teeth and the heat tickled his nose. Now that he remembered his name,
the place didn’t look right. He sat on a wooden bench at a table that
was just a flat sheet of iron. No, his real life was couched in expensive
leather and hummed with tiny electronics.
“Stop playing,” he slurred through the syrupy film coating his
tongue. When the deep slow voice of the violin’s strings didn’t stop, he
panicked and screamed, “Stop it!”
The fiddler shook his cankered head but lowered the bow. Geoff
truly saw him then, saw that he wasn’t a man, had never been a man,
had no origin common with a man. And he saw on his table a smorgas¬
bord of deepest crimson and palest purple.
Geoff lurched to his feet, overturning the bench, trying to vomit and
failing. He understood that he had tried before and failed then too.
Through the window, a perfect circle cut through rough stone, he saw
the other towers like his, impossibly massive spears that had thrust
outward from the forge at the center of the world, cracking continents
and sinking seas. The skewered world below looked a bit smaller than
last time, he could have reached out and palmed it like a basketball,
Arkham Tales, February 2009 27
and still the towers reached further into the void.
They were on their way to a reckoning; but the sailing was slow
and that was part of the pain.
Were the others here? His wife Sharon with her flabby, striated
thighs and her ever-youthful material wants? Or their son Hunter with
his head full of questions and fears? Or his mistress Brianna with her
dusky backwards glances?
Geoff snarled at their needs and bolted across the room and out
into a curving hallway ringed with identical doors. He staggered from
one to the other, glimpsing torment and degradation in each room. It
was all self-administered. They were all men.
“It isn’t fair,” Geoff Hayden whined. “All those eyes on you. You
have to carry people or you’ll be alone.”
The men in the rooms didn’t answer. They had taken the same
shortcuts he had; they had calculated success with black equations
older than mountains.
After a time, he returned to his room. He frowned at the creature
with the violin, the only one of its kind he had seen, and asked, “Do I
The fiddler’s voice was the sound of dead bark torn. “Yes. You once
did me a kindness I have long remembered, even in this place.”
Geoff nodded, indistinctly, but didn’t really remember. He righted
the bench, slick from a sticky puddle on the floor, and sat, resting his
elbows on the table, charnel dishes spread before him.
He said, “Thank you. And play on.”*
28 Arkham Tales, February 2009
On the 2008 Bram Stoker Award
Preliminary Ballot and nominated by
the editors of Dark Scribe Magazine for
a 2008 Black Quill Award.
peeing from what should have been a
I perfect crime. Axle and his accomplices
race into the Pennsylvania highlands with
a briefcase full of cash. On their tail, a
tattooed madman who wants them dead.
Axle knows the landscape and the perfect
hideout: the crater of an abandoned mine.
But terrible things happened there. Things lie
has spent years trying to forget.
Enter Kwetis, the nightflyer. Part memory, part nightmare, Kwetis has
planned a heist of his own, and soon, everyone will learn that each of them
is a piece of a plan devised long ago by the spirits of the Earth.
“Feels like some of the best magic realism that's been written
lately ,.. highly readable.”— BookSpotCentral.com
Trade Paperback * 260 Pages * S Illustrations * Si5.00
ISBN 13: 978-1-934571-00-2 * ISBN 10: 1-934571-00-8
www.VeinsTheNovel.com ] www.FEBooks.net
INCLUDE? CONTRIBUTION? BY
LAWRENCE C. CONNOLLY
F eaturing “Beerwulf” and 23 stories
that will tickle your funny bone
while quenching your thirst for
adventure, Bash Down the Door and
Slice Open the Badguy is a veritable
chorus line of worthless warriors,
simpleton sorcerers, and hapless henchmen.
S ails and Sorcery features 28 stories of mermaids, pirates, and magic
beyond your wildest dreams as w r ell as an introduction by Lawrence C.
Connolly and an afterword by Mark Summers 8c John Baur, creators of
International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Look for the soundtrack to the novel* composed and
performed by the author, Lawrence C. Connolly.
Coming soon from Fantasist Enterprises!
Arkham Tales , February 2009 29
A Curse in Any Language
William Burroughs wrote that the word is a virus. He was foolish and
wrong about a lot of things, but in this he was correct.
My girlfriend was always into trying new modes, testing herself,
learning new languages. In a quiet unforced way, one that would have
made her a resourceful and useful person someday, an asset to the
world. It was there to see in her kindness and percipience, so nearly
matured and so near finding an outlet.
Yes, a real tangible asset to this fucking world. If she’d lived.
She died at twenty-two in a way so horrible it makes me want to
run out into the streets and stab every person I see. The couples, the
singles, young, old, male, female... To destroy everyone and every¬
And perhaps I can.
I wouldn’t even need that knife, nor any other weapon you’d
When this nauseating rage achieves a balance with its polar
opposite—of not caring at all—I may well try to find out.
My conscience is clear, though—I’ll leave it somewhere, maybe
somewhere it won’t be found, and let chance do the rest.
It began and ended with one of her new languages.
I got back to the flat and found her home unexpectedly, with a pile
“You okay?” I said, assuming she’d left early with a bug or cold;
she was a dedicated worker. I will happily make her former office my
They gave her the book. Why? And what was it doing there? But
“Yeah, fine, thanks. Look at this.” She held out the book, open at
two yellowed pages of scrawled handwriting. “They were clearing out
the basement archives and found this old thing. Nobody could figure
out what it was so they let me take it.”
“Any idea what it is?”
“I’m not sure—it’s like... like someone trying to invent a new
language. Here, see what you reckon.”
I see her like this often, offering me the weapon.
[ . ]
That 's what the hose is for, yes, and the drains. No mess.
Hard work, but could be worse.
Never. I’ve made it a point of pride never to call for help, partly as
I’m not sure if the panic button works anymore. Not been serviced that
I’m aware of, cutbacks and that.
Still—I expect that’s partly why you’re here. The Man from the
Ministry, as they say.
Wouldn’t be time to get to the intercom, good grief no.
Don’t look so worried; still, you look very young to be an adminis¬
trator. Fast track, I expect, clever. You won’t have seen the sharp end
of it before.
Worry not—I can always tell when we’re due for another one:
instinct. It’ll be a while.
Been a quiet few days, actually. I feel nice and rested, good for
Sometimes it gets very hectic.
They come trooping through that door like I don’t know what.
All sorts. You never know what to expect, varies enormously.
Some could, yes. Others could never pass for human, not in a
million years. Have we got a million years, do you think?
No but seriously. Horrible, some of them. You’ve just had lunch,
Stop worrying. There’s the five minute warning, and look at the
door—look how big the hinges are. Weighs a couple of tons at least.
.. .Yes, some of them can be rather nasty.
Well, I was reading in the news about those scientists, the
argument, about whether these are really living creatures at all. Bit
complicated to follow—especially rushing about with work—but
maybe you can explain it to me.
Well, not many can. I mean, it’s a funny kind of problem.
I think it was bacteria, that was the example. Something similar.
Some sort of ocean microbe, or was it mineral, mixed with pollution
30 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 31
and started moving about. The other idea sounds like bollocks:
something to do with a book that infected people, some fella started
spreading it around. Heard that one?
Imagine that, the door opens and out comes fuck knows what, all
dripping from the sea. Because of a book. Nah.
Of course I’ve got regrets, but it’s good money, not that Municipal
Currency rubbish: I can keep a nice full fridge.
Back to business. This is the modulator, yes. Special frequency,
harmless to humans but blows them apart. All a bit mucky, hence the
drains. One way of telling if they’re real people or not, I suppose.
My apologies—bad joke. It can be upsetting if they look more or
less normal, yes, but you never forget what’ll happen to you if they
[ . ]
“It was a camping holiday with a girl I met at a festival.
“Never mind that, she was a sweet Euro-babe and I wanted to get
in bed with her but wasn’t sure she was up for it. She was a space
cadet, Ieylines and earth-lights, UFOs—magic mushrooms, crappy
trance music, that kind of thing. Wanted to recreate the festival vibe,
so we went camping in some fields in the middle of nowhere. I forget
if we were looking for ghosts or flying saucers.’’
“‘The girl’s name was Kelli Nyquist,” said one of the scientists.
“Yes, and I realised she didn’t fancy me after all, so I drank all her
apple gin and passed out. Woke up for a piss in the middle of the night
and went into the forest. You know, maybe a puke or a dump too.”
“And that’s where you found the device,” said one of the labcoats.
“Yep, that’s where I found the ‘device,’ if you mean that book.”
Scott realised something was wrong with him; he kept talking to anchor
himself as his vision began to flicker and cut out at the edges. “You
know all this already. So what’s the story?” They must have slipped
him something in his water; any minute now he was going to keel over
in this chair and get away from the overpowering smell of these men’s
mingling aftershaves. The smell filled his head like the light, which was
growing speckled and heavy. “I found the book just lying there. ..Sol
picked it up and it felt a bit strange, like I knew it wanted to be
read—I’m not rambling am I, except I am, and jeez I need to lie
One of the scientists knelt before him, but not close. “How long
now since you’ve been exposed? What symptoms have you noticed?”
32 Arkham Tales, February 2009
“Err... Help me out here.”
“Unusual rashes or skin discolorations, altered diet, anything like
that. And did you read the book?”
Scott was now canted at an angle that showed him the underside
of the plastic chairs facing him and the shiny shoes of his questioners.
He giggled. “Come to think of it, yes. Funny thing.
“The last half of it was missing. The pages had been torn out.”
His concentration was shading away into faintness, his grip on
consciousness softly pried away as a grey bubble settled over him.
Through his fattened tongue, he asked, “Did I mention I gave the book
He just had time to enjoy their looks of confused fear before the
toxin shrank and compacted him to nothing.*
FROM THE PAGES OF THE PAST
ISBN @780970169914 *9.95 ISBN 9780970169921 $16.95 ISBN 9780970169907 *1+95
NEW COLLECTIONS FOR THE PRESENT
AVAILABLE WHEREVER BOOKS ARE SOLD
Arkham Tales , February 2009 33
Uncle Eric's Leather Bound Tale
Catherine J. Gardner
Rule One in the Doggett household was “Don’t throw spitballs at Uncle
Eric.” Billy’s mother had secured the list to the refrigerator door with a
pineapple-shaped magnet. It ran straight through to Rule Seventeen:
“Don’t talk to men wearing blue shoes.”
The list curled at the edges and was a crispy shade of yellow. Billy’s
mother was afraid all the rules would be broken if she removed and
rewrote it. Billy picked a squashed pea off Rule Five.
“Find something productive to do and stop lingering at the
refrigerator door like a curdling pool of milk,” his mother said as she
wiped flour off her nose. “Put some life in your cheeks by introducing
them to some sunshine.”
The Doggett front yard was a long stretch of concrete. Weeds
poked up through the cracks and in places had grown to monstrous
heights. A collection of purple-haired grannies gathered at the bus stop.
The bus doors hissed open and a man wearing shiny blue shoes
stepped off. He looked at Billy and grinned.
Even without the added horror of his shoes, Billy would have
turned and run at the grin. It was too white, too wide, and didn’t reach
the man’s eyes.
The front door slammed behind him. He pounded up the stairs and
then up a second set. The door into the attic trembled as he kicked it
shut. Dust choked as he pulled an old trunk across the floorboards and
positioned it in front of the door.
The doorbell rang.
“Don’t answer it. Don’t answer it. Don’t answer it.”
He pressed his hands to his ears. His knees made so much noise as
they clicked together that he had no hope of remaining concealed. He
lifted the lid of the trunk with the intention of climbing inside.
Or rather, something within the trunk sneezed. He reached up and
pulled the light switch cord.
Brown eyes blinked and a leather nose twitched. A disembodied
voice said, “Who invited the broads?”
“What?” Billy said.
“The ringlets and Dorothy Gale dresses. Sheesh, did one of them
just wink at me.”
Billy lifted the porcelain dolls out of the trunk to gain a better view
of the squashed face. It had an Elvis-like quiff and buckteeth, and
looked just like the portrait of dead Uncle Eric that hung above the
He picked out a wad of pages that looked torn from a paperback
book. The pages were dog-eared and damp.
“Hands off the goods, kid,” the face said.
“This?” Billy waved the musty paper.
“That is my only bargaining chip: The last chapter of The Road to
Hell by Eric A. Doggett.”
Billy scratched his head. Was he really talking to a face in a trunk?
The school psychologist who had counseled him after the incident
involving the severed finger in his custard would have a long word to
name this. He felt his head for bumps.
“Hand back the book and nobody gets hurt.”
A face in a trunk was threatening him. Uncle Eric was threatening
him. Billy wished he had spit a decades worth of spitballs at the
“Everyone thinks you’re dead.”
As he looked down at the squashed face, Billy was not convinced
his uncle wasn’t.
“Good. Now hand back the book.”
“A man wearing blue shoes just rang the doorbell.”
“Shut the lid.”
Uncle Eric closed his eyes and mouth. Billy blinked. Although
wrinkled, the bottom of the trunk looked almost normal. Had he
imagined the face? He left the lid open. The attic door whined as he
opened it an inch. The trunk scratched along the floorboards.
“I’m afraid I can’t speak to you unless you take off your shoes.” His
mother’s voice was a high-pitched squeak.
“My feet smell,” a gruff voice answered.
“Then good day and goodbye. Ahem! Could you please take your
shiny shoe out of my door?”
Billy’s mother always folded in the face of confrontation. Her usual
34 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 35
staple was to point people to the rules of her list. She invited the man
into the kitchen to read it.
The front door slammed shut.
“Do you like your mother?” Uncle Eric’s face asked.
“That’s a shame.”
“Why?” Billy looked into the trunk.
“Because she’s about to be blended, whisked, or cooked in the
oven, and I doubt there’ll be anything left of her face to converse with.”
In his rush to save his mother, Billy tripped down the stairs. He fell
with a thump. His horrified face reflected back at him in patent leather.
The foot tapped.
“This nice gentleman is inquiring after your Uncle Eric,” his mother
“He’s wearing blue shoes.”
“Oh that was a silly rule.” She giggled. “I’ve crossed it off the list.”
Two red circles colored her cheeks. It looked as if the man had
“I am searching for the last chapter of a book written by your
talented uncle,” the man hissed. “I will check your attic.”
“No need to. I already have.”
“My son is a genius.”
Billy held open the front door. He waited and he waited and tried
to ignore the bees that buzzed in his stomach. Eventually the man
turned on his shiny heels and left. Well, sort of. He got as far as the bus
stop, leaned against the pole, and looked as if he intended to go no
further. His teeth blinded passing pedestrians and encouraged them to
catch the bus. Confused faces peered from the bus windows as it rolled
away. Billy bit his lip and suspected a case of hypnotism.
Moans issued from within the trunk as he dragged it down the
“What are you doing?” His mother asked.
Billy threw open the lid. “It’s Uncle Eric.”
“Hi,” his uncle said.
His mother screamed and fainted. An insistent hand rapped at the
front door. Billy tucked the chapter into his jeans pocket and pulled his
t-shirt down to conceal it. He didn’t want to answer the door but he
knew that not answering it would look suspicious.
The man pushed Billy over.
“A-ha!” the man said as he tripped over the trunk.
“Uh-oh!” Uncle Eric replied. Then sticking out his leather chin and
gaining in bravado he added, “What are you going to do, melt me
again? Besides, the kid has the chapter.”
Billy was out of the door and had fought through weeds before the
man could blink. He hurtled over the fence. His arms pumped air and
his legs had no idea where they were carrying him. He checked over his
shoulder. Long strides propelled the man closer and closer.
The shopping centre with its maze of stores and CCTV opened up
in front of Billy. It seemed everyone was pushing against him. He dived
into a Postman Pat van, squished into the small space, and felt a total
dipstick. If anyone from school saw him, he would spend the rest of the
year having his head flushed down the toilet.
If he had a head to flush.
He unfurled the pages. The first page concentrated on fire and
blood. The second was rather more gruesome. It was the tale of a man
whose weapon was a hot poker and it described how he liked to insert
things in dark places. Billy shuddered and shuffled on the tiny seat.
The end of a yellow umbrella poked him in the cheek. A bead of
blood dripped onto his jeans.
“Out.” The assailant insisted. “Out, out, out.”
He squeezed out of the van with a pop. The woman who had
attacked him shoved a bawling four-year-old into it. The van started
rocking. The kid, however, did not stop bawling. The man and his shiny
blue shoes waited for him. The man crooked his finger.
There was nowhere to run.
Billy dug into his pocket and pulled out the chapter. Greedy fingers
snatched it from his hand. However, the man was not done with him.
He grabbed Billy’s left ear and dragged him through the crowd.
No one complained.
No one interfered.
Everyone stepped out of the way.
Maybe the shoppers also had a rule that instructed them not to talk
to men wearing blue shoes. Or one that told them to ignore boys with
ginger hair as they were usually up to something bad. He had erased
that rule from his mother’s list.
The last place he expected the man to drag him to was the church.
The second last place was the choir loft. Billy considered whether he
would go splat if the man threw him over the railings. This was after all
a church and a supposed place of miracles. Sweat made his skin
slippery. The man wiped his hands down his suit in disgust.
36 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 37
Billy cowered against a stack of hymnbooks. Below them sounds
echoed as something scraped across the mosaic floor. Heels click-
“Careful, woman,” Uncle Eric’s voice echoed up the stairs as the
trunk slammed against each step. “I am this trunk. This trunk is me.”
“And my blood must be 100% proof because none of this can be
happening,” his mother muttered. She dropped the trunk with a thud
and rushed over to Billy. Whisky dripped from her hair and blew from
her mouth in intoxicating clouds. “Are you okay?”
“Prop me up, prop me up,” Uncle Eric insisted.
Billy gave a sly kick to the rear of the trunk.
“Okay, you have the chapter, Bozo,” Uncle Eric said.
“Boozon.” The man corrected. “The address is in this chapter?”
“Do you want me to melt your family? Do you want me to stuff
them in the trunk with you?”
“It will make it a little crowded. However, I could do with the
company.” Uncle Eric’s melted lips grinned.
“Can I spit at him now?” Billy asked.
“Yes,” his mother answered.
“Sheesh, some days I cannot believe I wrote a book detailing how
to melt a man into a trunk.”
The man thumbed through the pages. Uncle Eric whistled as he did
“I cannot find the address.”
“Page 274, line 6.”
The man ran his finger down the page. He read aloud. “Inside my
“That’s the address of where the information is stored, sucker.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“Melted guy in a trunk. Don’t exactly give a crap.”
“There has to be something I can threaten you with.” The man’s
“Well not threaten so much but I could be bribed. A collection of
graphic novels, a few paperbacks and a torch should do it. It’s boring
reading the same pages over and over and especially so when you
haven’t a pen to change their order.”
“Or I could put a ferret in there with you? Or how about I drop in
a few bookworms?”
“Not bookworms, I beg you.”
38 Arkham Tales, February 2009
“A bookworm to eat the bookworm. Maybe I’ll turn the boy into
“Okay, I’ll tell you. However, my throat is a little dry so you will
have to lean in close. That’s it.”
Billy and his mother pushed the man into the trunk. They slammed
the lid shut and then sat on it. The blue shoes had slipped off in the
Billy’s mother looked down at her reflection and screeched. “I’m
creating a new rule. Never leave home without checking a mirror first.”
“How long do you think it takes a man to melt into a trunk?” Billy
“Well, your Uncle Eric disappeared when you were two,” she
counted on her fingers, “so I’m guessing we should leave it at least
eleven years before we open it.”*
Arkham Tales, February 2009
John Jasper Owens
She spent all day at the planetarium, watching the same show over and
over under the artificial bowl of the Milky Way. The crowds changed—
school kids, tourists, B&Ters—no real New Yorkers because they only
came when the show was new, and this one had run for weeks. She left
her seat only to pay for the next show, then settled back quickly to take
another virtual trip on Voyager: slingshot around the sun, brush by
Mars, and wait for the ceiling to fill with the trippy moons and rings of
Jupiter and Saturn. It never got old.
Enjoy, buy another ticket, enjoy again.
She stepped out from the artificial night into the artificial day of
Manhattan after dark. Headlights bled along the avenue, taxis bumped
honks, and the streetlamps dampened the stars above to invisibility.
Across the avenue stood the long wrought-iron gates, and beyond that
Central Park stretched like a darkening secret. Some Puerto Rican kids
ganged around one of the entrances, laughing and playing some sort
of game that meant keeping sticks bouncing in the air. She wondered
if it was a Puerto Rican thing or if all the kids were doing it, then
thought, damn. I’m ancient.
Dinner soon, but a walk first.
She’d crossed the street and was maybe a dozen steps beyond the
kids when she felt the man come up beside her. Amazing, a city this
size and people all around, she could tell just before it happened that
someone was coming for her. Her hand made a fist in her pocket.
“Did you enjoy the show?” he asked. She looked up at him—big
guy—and thought, Great, some nutcase. City’s chock-a-block with
them: A wide and slumpy man with a mistake for a haircut and a roll
of fat snuggling his belt. A billowy tee shirt with a picture of the galaxy
stretched across his chest with words reading “You Are Here.” A
clunky, hippie-style wooden cross dangled from a thong on his neck.
His clothes needed a bath. “I only ask,” he said when she started
walking faster, “because you sat through it thrice.” He held up three
greasy fingers. “I sat through it twice, and you were already there when
“Of course, I’m not extrapolating,” he snorted laughter. “But you
could tell that. Maybe you were there longer.”
She stopped walking, and he nearly stumbled past her. They were
a few dozen yards beyond where the tourists would be taking carriage
rides if it were earlier, snapping photos to take home to Omaha, and
there were still plenty of people around. Two rollerbladers came up on
them, parted on either side, and slid away. He was definitely a man to
set off any normal woman’s alarms. The size of him—despite his pudge
he was surely very strong, his face, sweaty and twitchy, and she saw he
carried a large leather satchel over one shoulder. Big enough for...
But she didn’t like that thought. She did not like that at all.
“You know, "he breathed down at her.
She almost ran.
She took a deep breath and considered. Mace in her purse, lots of
people around, even here in the park, and lit under the walkway lamps.
Instead of causing a scene, she turned on her heel and marched away.
He strode to keep up, breathing hard, and stayed beside her. “I’ve seen
you before,” he said. “I’ve seen the way you watch the stars. Take me!”
Screw it, she thought, and took off running. His heavy feet slapped
after her. Wrong time to be wearing heels, she thought, can’t stop to
kick them off. The strollers, fewer here, watched them pass, not wanting
to get involved. She didn’t see a single cell phone come out. The city,
lovely place for minding its own business. She needed to speed up,
to... Wait. She had an idea.
She ducked off the path, and over a low hill. A copse stood near a
duck pond close by, she remembered, a jogging trail snaking around it.
“Stop,” he shouted, and he was much closer than she’d thought. He
could almost reach out and grab her hair.
No one around now, deep in the park at night.
She bent at her left knee and with a fluid sweep of her arm caught
the huge man in his armpit and tossed him past her, his momentum
carrying his three hundred pounds tumbling into a cedar trunk. His
satchel split and reams of papers, notebooks, and binders flew like
doves around them. Not the weapons she expected. As the man held
his head and groaned, sprawled in the grass, she picked one up. Then
another. She laughed. Then another and she positively howled. “Area
40 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 41
51 Explained!’’ “Roswell: The Cover-up, ” “The Aztec UFOs. ’’
“You’re just some nutcase,” she laughed, “I thought you’d come to
“You know,” the man insisted, sitting up. “I’ve seen you. At night,
staring at the sky, in the planetarium all day, watching the stars, you
know what’s out there! Tell me!”
“I thought you were a hunter,” she said, shaking her head. “A
dangerous man. But you’re not.” She knelt on one knee and stared into
his eyes. “You’re not dangerous, but you are lucky. Too many people
saw us together.”
“But,” he said, “the planetarium ...”
“You think I spent all day in the planetarium because I believe in
She brought one long fingernail to the side of her mouth, beneath
her upper lip, and pushed up. Her incisor gleamed. Too long, too
sharp, it seemed to grow. She smiled, two white fangs hooking down.
She winked at him.
She turned into a bat and flew away. •
Arkham Tales, February 2009
I never learned to swim.
I could never hold my face under the water
for fear of seeing that other world.
The seas always haunted me,
as the flow and ebb of waves
whispered dark lullabies
from a childhood aeons ago.
I hated the twisted reflections
upon the ocean's surface,
which confronted me with monsters in my own image.
I dreaded the suggestions of writhing tentacles
in the inky, endless depths,
as the glints of sun tried to penetrate
the secrets of the sea.
I never learned to swim.
I could never understand the urge
to return to the water’s edge.
Our gills have been shed.
We left the memories of our origins hidden deep
in our own subconscious seas.
I don’t want to dive in
and face the horror,
I am happier to drown-
to have the water push into my lungs
and flood them with the taste of death
than to discover that I belong
in that terrible long-forgotten kingdom. •
Arkham Tales , February 2009
The Key Ring
Never throw away a key. That’s a habit I picked up from Uncle
Ormund. It’s some twenty years since I last saw him and I’ve still got
two key rings: the everyday one for my house and car keys, and the big
one—the kind you see janitors toting around—with close to a hundred
keys on it. Some I still use occasionally. A few others I still remember
what they once unlocked. The rest are lost in the dusty, cobweb-filled
vaults of my memory. Of the ones I remember, there’s the set to our
San Francisco condo we rent out and the storage space we still have
there in the City; the ones from Erica’s old apartment, and mine; the
spare to my wheelie-happy, three cylinder Kawasaki she made me sell
after I ran it through a stop sign post and fractured the ulna in my right
arm; the padlock key I stole to the cafeteria ice-cream freezer at
Stoneridge Academy; and probably a dozen ancient-looking warded
keys from the Hearne estate.
In the dream I had last week, I was trying to find this key ring.
Grams was lying on the bed, beckoning me closer for a kiss. There
were mealworms in her mouth and eyes, and skin was tightening in
from the walls and ceiling all around me. I tried running, but my legs
were mired in that invisible bog that always slows you to near paralysis
in dreams. I was slipping downward towards Grams’ maw, a gaping pit
of chains, shit, and blood. I grasped out for anything to hold on to and
found a doorknob. Summoning some unfound strength, I pulled myself
through the doorway and slammed the door shut behind me. The
shadows from Gram’s tentacles projected beneath the door. I ran to my
desk and fumbled through the drawers.
You can’t leave her locked in there forever, Uncle Ormund
suddenly says to me, but then he turns to dust.
I finally find the key ring and turn to face the doorway... and that’s
when I woke up.
“You didn’t hear a word I just said, did you, Dedrick?” my wife
I was standing in my study—my real study—between my drafting
table and desk, only in my underwear, with the big key ring in hand.
Erica was standing at the doorway where she must’ve just flipped on
the lights. It’d been years since she last found me sleepwalking. It’d
been years since I had a dream I remembered. I don’t know what she
made of it. All she said was, “I’m going back to bed.” Me? I knew
something was wrong.
In the morning I got the call from the Lake County coroner’s office
saying that Uncle Ormund had died of heart failure.
I tried calling my mother in Ashland, but when some old hippy
finally answered the phone after twenty minutes he told me she had left
the commune four or five months ago. He had no idea where she’d
gone or how I could contact her, so I left a message for her in case she
turned up and left it at that.
The president of my firm complained when I told him I needed a
week off, but I had loads of personal time accrued and I was ahead of
schedule with the residential drawings I was working on, so I really
didn’t give him a choice in the matter. I dropped the drawings off at our
Vegas office building on my way to the airport and was on my way to
California before noon. The plan was for Erica to meet me there once
I arranged the funeral and saw to Uncle Ormund’s will.
And so I met with the Hearne family lawyer all by myself. The will
was all in order. As I expected, the entire estate was left to me. Uncle
Ormund was a man of propriety and I carried his surname, even if I
only bore the Hearne name because I didn’t know who my father was.
Uncle Ormund certainly wasn’t going to leave the estate to my mother,
and there was no one else but me.
In the envelope the lawyer gave me with the insurance paperwork
was the deed to the entire Hearne estate, and a single warded
key—similar to those on my key ring, but smaller. I had no idea what
it could be for, but I had little time to give it thought at that moment
and merely placed it on my big key ring for safekeeping.
Uncle Ormund had prearranged to be buried next to Grams and
Grandpa Hearne. The plot, casket, even the small service, were already
paid for. It was a simple matter of arranging a date for the service with
44 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 45
the funeral director. We opted to wait for the weekend, that way Erica
could make it and some distant cousins who lived back east. None of
them showed. The cousins were too old to travel, Erica missed her
flight—on purpose, Em fairly certain. She’d never even met Uncle
Ormund, yet she hated him.
When I met Erica at Berkeley, I thought I had put my childhood
behind me, but I was still pretty messed up, I guess. She was the first
girl I ever had a serious relationship with, the first girl I slept with, and
there’s always going to be some baggage that’s dug up with your first
girl, no matter how much therapy and counseling you had at boarding
school. I didn’t know my mother as a kid. The only females I knew
were Grams and Penny, and the head-doctors had pretty much wiped
their memory clean from my mind.
I first started having the dreams when Erica and I began dating.
Pretty Penny falling into the pit of Grams’ gaping maw, and me
pissing myself and running away. Abandoning Penny. Every time.
Erica found me sleepwalking, looking for my key ring a couple of
times, and I must’ve said Penny’s name in my sleep more than once.
Erica’s always been smart. Resourceful. She dug up a bunch of old
newspaper articles on microfiche at the school library and found out
how my grams had died a raving lunatic, chained to the wall in the
basement of the Hearne manor, and how Uncle Ormund had been the
primary suspect in Penny’s disappearance even though the police had
no evidence to press charges.
Erica made me rehash all that old, painful shit Ed gone through
with the counselors. But she at least comforted me. I cried like a baby
with her. She cried with me and held me when I didn’t want to talk
anymore. I told her what little I remembered of Grams and Penny. I
even tried to dig up the repressed memories I don’t have of Uncle
Ormund beating me.
Fact of the matter is, Uncle Ormund never did abuse me. He was
strict. He took the belt to me a couple of times when I broke the rules.
But for the most part he tried to be fatherly. He was like what I imagine
Grandpa Hearne was probably like. He taught me humility, respect. He
taught me to drive tractors, how to split wood, how to throw a
baseball, how to judge when the wine grapes were ready for picking,
all the stuff he thought a man needed to know. There wasn’t a lot of
love between us, but he showed affection in his own way. The business
about him chaining Grams to the wall—the stuff that really rankled
Erica—I didn’t remember too well, nor did I blame Uncle Ormund at
the time. The only memories I had of Grams were a few faded pictures
in my mind of me sitting beside her on her big, quilt- covered bed when
I was very young.
And as for Penny, Ed spent a lot time and effort repressing those
Uncle Ormund’s funeral was small and attended by only a dozen
or so people, most of them from Uncle Ormund’s church. It rained, that
steady saturating downpour style of rain Eve only seen in northern
California. I hadn’t been back to Lake County in almost twenty years
so I didn’t know most of the people who showed up beneath black
umbrellas, but I did recognize one woman. When the service was over,
she came up to me.
Penny’s mother. She gave me her condolences, said she remem¬
bered me when I was twelve, that I had grown up a handsome young
man. I asked her if she still lived in the little farmhouse opposite Clover
Springs Road from the Hearne estate and she said yeah. I said it was
good to see her again. That’s all. What else could I say? I stood there
like an idiot in the rain.
When she was gone and the casket was lowered into the ground I
went to my car and called Erica.
“But the funeral is over,” she said. “You still want me to come?”
I was angry. Not because I felt I needed her there, but because she
should have been there, that she was obliged to be there for me.
Selfish. Stupid. I know. I don’t know when we went wrong. I always
“Just catch the next standby flight,” I told her. “Rent a car and meet
me at the manor. I want you to be here with me.”
“But we’re just going to sell it.”
Her presumptuousness pissed me off even more. True, I was
planning on selling the manor and the orchards and everything, but her
saying that made me want to keep it just to spite her.
“I haven’t decided yet. Just get out here.”
And that’s how we left it: her sitting at the airport in Las Vegas and
me in my rental car at the cemetery, listening to the rain pummel the
46 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 47
The Hearne manor is located about ten miles southwest of
Lakeport. Back in its heyday, when Grandpa Hearne was alive and
running things, and Great-Grandpa Hearne before him, there were
some thirty acres of temperamental Sangiovese and Petite Sirah grape
orchards. The grapes are all gone wild—gone to hell—now. After I was
born and Grams went mad, Uncle Ormund had to let it all go. He
could’ve hired a nanny for me and a caretaker for Grams, but I think
he was too proud to let anyone see us, know about us. The Hearne
name used to mean something.
The house itself... I really hadn’t expected to be awed by it. I’ve
traveled all over the world researching architecture, I’ve designed
ten-thousand square foot post-modern mansions, thirty story neo¬
gothic high-rises, but there’s something about a lone Victorian style
manse surrounded only by verdant hills of wild grasses, White Oaks,
Ponderosa Pines, and rampant grape vines.
The Hearne house is two stories tall, with a gable-windowed attic
and a cellar. Six bedrooms, maybe four thousand square feet of living
space. A pitted marble exterior stairway leads to the covered, six-pillar¬
ed front porch and oaken double doors. The horizontal wood siding is
cream colored and the almost excessive trim, forest green. The pitched
portion of the roof is shingled gray. Always has been.
After I parked my car in the muddy driveway, I just sat there
staring at the house for maybe ten minutes before getting out. It’d been
a long time since I’d seen the place. It was sort of like sitting in one of
my dreams. The rain had stopped, so I tossed my sodden suit coat
back into the car and discarded my tie along with it. I thought about
changing out of the rest of my clothes, but my shoes and pant legs were
already covered in mud from the cemetery. I grabbed my big key ring,
clipped it to one of the belt loops on my black slacks, and trudged to
the front steps.
Up close I found that Uncle Ormund had let the place get pretty
bad. A rusted garden hoe lay in a patch of barren mud at the foot of the
steps. The paint on the siding of the house was alligatored and peeling.
Some of the panels along the underside of the porch were bowed. And
one of the downspout drains from the second floor balcony above the
porch had rusted away and caused the surrounding woodwork to
decay; it looked like rats or pigeons had taken up residence in the
rotting orifice. The front doors and the lock, at least, were in good
order; the biggest of the warded keys on my ring turned smoothly in the
well-oiled locking mechanism and the doors opened without a squeak.
The interior wasn’t in any better shape than the exterior. The wood
floors in the foyer were cupped and the lacquer blistered from water
damage. The railing leading up the wide-arcing staircase to the second
floor dangled from the wall. The white crown molding above the
doorway was stained brown and warped away from the ceiling and
wall, probably due to the ruined downspout on the second floor. Dust
There were sheets on the furniture in the great room; I doubt
anyone had gone in there since my twelfth birthday, when Penny was
the only one to show up to my party and we took turns busting up the
paper-mache pinata Uncle Ormund had made for us, then ate pixie
sticks and gummi-fish on the great room floor until we were both sick.
I remember being mortified at the idea of having a pinata at my twelfth
birthday, thinking I was too old for such nonsense, but Penny didn’t
think it was stupid. She never said a peep about no one else showing
up to my party either.
As I surveyed the rest of the first floor, I found more of the same:
furniture covered with dusty sheets in the dining room, family room,
and study. The only room on the first floor that looked to have been
used in the last twenty years was the kitchen, and it reeked. A sink full
of dirty dishes. A garbage can full of rotting trash. A layer of filth on all
the oak cabinets and countertops. I threw the garbage out onto the side
porch and left the door open so the place could air out. I pulled the
drain plug from the sink, but the feculent water didn’t go down until I
reset the fuse-switch on the garbage disposal and ran it for thirty
seconds. There were no kitchen towels, so I used my pants to dry my
The last room on the first floor was Grams’ room, located behind
the breakfast nook. The door was closed. I didn’t try it, but instead
went upstairs and found more closed doors—all of them except Uncle
Ormund’s: the master bedroom. He’d been living in filth. The floor was
littered with empty aspirin bottles, old newspapers, and crusty TV
dinner boxes. The old king-sized, canopied family bed I remembered
was gone, and in its place one of those motorized adjustable beds. A
cordless telephone sat on the nightstand, and a flat-panel televi¬
sion—looking oddly out of place—hung on the wall.
That’s how Uncle Ormund spent his last years: propped up in bed,
watching TV. At least he had the phone nearby and was able to call
48 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 49
911 when he realized he was having a heart attack. God knows how
long he would have lain there rotting before someone found him
I opened a window in the room to let the place breathe, thinking
about what a chore it was going to be to clean everything up, and at
the same time realizing that I should’ve been feeling guilty. I didn’t,
though. Uncle Ormund was his own man, never wanted any help. I
remember after grad school when I was working for Malstern Designs
and making good money for the first time. I was newly engaged to
Erica and got the notion to bring her to the Hearne estate, see if I could
help Uncle Ormund re-invest in the property and get the vineyards
“What for?” he asked me.
What for? That was the last time I talked to him. We’ve sent
Christmas cards every year since, but that’s it.
I kicked my way through the garbage toward the master bathroom
entrance, but the stench kept me at bay. I could see from the doorway
that the toilet was clogged and so turned back. Filthy clothes lay
heaped in a pile near the closet doorway and shoeboxes full of junk
were spilled over inside the closet. I started to move on, but glimpsed
something beneath the boxes that caught my attention: a small wooden
trunk. It wasn’t spilled open, but it was overturned, having toppled
from a shelf along with all the shoeboxes. I picked it up and saw the
tiny keyhole in the latch. A tiny keyhole you open with a warded key.
I knew before I even grabbed the key ring from my belt that the key
Uncle Ormund had left me would fit.
I’m not sure what I expected to find. I stood holding the box for a
long time before finally taking it out into the light of the room and
setting it down on the bed. The key fit perfectly, but unlike the front
door, the hinges on the box squeaked with protest when I opened the
lid. Inside was a stack of envelopes, old and yellowed. I was disap¬
pointed at first, not sure what to make of it all. I flipped through the
ones on top, saw they were addressed to Uncle Ormund. No return
address. Unopened. Farther down I started finding ones addressed to
Grams. And me. I stared at the handwriting, feeling I should recognize
I held up one of the envelopes, staring at my name, and that’s
when I heard the footsteps, when I turned to see her—the last person
I ever expected to see again—peeking through the doorway. I froze,
thinking I was hallucinating, dreaming maybe, but then she turned and
scampered away. It was real; I heard her shoes clack across the wood
floor. Without hesitation, I scrambled up and bolted after her,
overcome with a sense of dread that I would lose her like I always did
in my dreams.
Of all the places I didn’t want her to go, that’s the place she went,
where I knew she would go: Grams’ room. I reached the bottom of the
stairs and turned the corner into the kitchen at the same moment she
slammed the door closed. I followed closely after and threw the door
open only to see her head disappear into the floor and the cellar-door
fall back to the ground with a brittle crack. There was no furniture in
the room anymore, but I hardly noticed. I threw the cellar door open,
expecting the opening to turn into a fang-filled mouth, expecting to be
overcome with a gust of decay. All I smelled was dust, though. All I
saw were bone-white stairs receding into darkness. I called her name
out once, twice, but heard nothing. I took a step downward. Then
another. And another. And then the stairs cracked beneath my feet and
I was falling. I thrust my hands outward to break my fall, but I didn’t
hit the cellar floor. I just kept falling. And falling. And falling. Every¬
thing went black and I kept falling.
I awoke face down on a cool wood floor. My nose was bleeding,
my head throbbing, but otherwise I seemed to have all my faculties.
The memory of the basement stairs shattering and me falling came
rushing back and I felt a flood of relief at not having broken any bones,
but then I remembered why I had been running down the stairs in the
first place. Penny.
I flipped over on the floor and there she was, sitting cross-legged
at my feet, looking exactly as I remembered her: still twelve years old,
with those big blue eyes and straight brown hair, but wearing a girly
pink dress like she never would have worn.
“What happened to you, Dedrick?” she asked me. “You got big.
I didn’t trust myself to speak, thinking I was dreaming or halluci¬
nating. I pulled myself up onto my knees and reached out to touch
Penny’s arm, expecting her to dissipate away like a plume of smoke,
50 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 51
but she was solid flesh and blood.
“You’re still a scaredy-cat,” she said. “You don’t need to be afraid
I was speechless. I sat there with my hand on her arm for a moment
longer before finally forcing myself to tear my eyes away from her and
survey my surroundings
“Where the hell are we?” I gasped, but I already knew. I was still
in the Hearne house, in the middle of the foyer, but it wasn’t right. The
chandelier glowed warmly overhead, all the dust was gone, the
hardwood floors were smooth and polished, the crown molding perfect,
and the banister on the stairway wasn’t ripped out of the wall.
“I live in your house now,” Penny said. “With Mother.”
“Mother?” The word sent a chill running down my spine.
“She’s not really my mother, but she likes me to call her that. She
calls me Terra sometimes, but I’m not the real Terra.”
I jumped to my feet, on the verge of panic now. Terra is my
“Your name isn’t Terra,” I told Penny. “It’s Penny.”
She rolled her eyes. “I know—that’s what I just said. Why are you
“Penny, how did you get here?”
“What do you mean?”
The image of Grams’ gaping maw and tentacles tugged at the edge
of my mind. “Do you remember the day you disappeared?” I asked
She jutted her jaw to the side and raised an eyebrow—I remem¬
bered the look.
“We were playing hide and go seek...” I explained, but that’s all
I could really remember. The last memory I had of Penny was her
running out of the great room as I started counting to twenty. Every¬
thing else... I thought just nightmare visions... all the other memories
had been explained away by so many doctors.
“I remember playing,” Penny said. “But you never came and found
“Did Grams find you?”
“She’s not your mother. Did she do something to you? Did she take
“She acts like a mother, and she likes me to call her that.”
Clearly, she didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t know that I really
wanted to either. “You talk to Grams?” I asked instead. “How?”
Penny wrinkled her face. “What do you mean? Just like we’re
talking right now.”
“She’s real? Can you see her?”
“Of course she’s real, silly.”
I couldn’t get my mind around this. “But how? She’s dead.”
“She’s real,” Penny insisted. “You’ll see. She wants to talk to you.
None of it seemed possible—this was the Hearne house, but it
wasn’t—here was Penny, but she was only twelve when she should
have been almost forty. I couldn’t make sense of it, but there it was,
solid as could be, so I didn’t argue. I let Penny lead me though the
great room towards the back of the house, figuring I’d wake up or snap
out of it when we reached Grams’ room; that’s always when I woke up
in my dreams.
The sheets were gone from the furniture in all the rooms and
everything was immaculate. The furniture and floors were polished.
There wasn’t a speck of dust anywhere. Through the window on the far
side of the great room all I saw was black.
“Why did it take you so long to come and find me?” Penny asked.
“I’ve been waiting forever.”
Twenty some years, I thought. “When you disappeared,” I said, “I
was sent away by Uncle Ormund—“
Penny tensed. “Shhh. Don’t say his name in front of Mother.”
I nodded warily, and we continued through the breakfast nook.
“Be careful what you say,” Penny went on. “I don’t think she
remembers you, so you’ll have to remind her. She forgets things easily.
She gets mad easily.”
I stopped and grabbed Penny. We were right outside Grams’ door.
“Has she hurt you, Penny?”
“No, never. But she gets mad when she remembers things and she’ll
break stuff and mess up the house.”
I didn’t entirely believe her, but nodded anyway and let Penny
knock on the door.
“Come in,” a voice said, and Penny opened the door.
The room was as it looked in my earliest memories. Grams sat on
her big, quilt-covered bed, knitting. She looked kindly. Her gray hair
52 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 53
was bundled into a bun at the back of her head. She looked over her
reading glasses at me standing behind Penny in the doorway and
suddenly the skin on her forehead and cheeks seemed to mottle and
tear away—revealing black sinews like grease covered cables—but
only for a moment and then her skin was back, and I wasn’t entirely
sure that I hadn’t imagined it. My adrenaline was surging. I kept
picturing that maw of chains, shit, and blood. I was sweating,
shaking—too scared for this to be a dream.
“Who’s this you’ve brought, Terra?” Grams asked.
Penny hesitated and looked up at me.
“It’s me, your grandson,” I croaked. “Dedrick.”
Grams narrowed her eyes and cocked her head.
“You used to read me stories when I was a boy, here on this bed,”
I continued, my voice now under control. I stepped forward to get
between Grams and Penny. “One time when I was sick and”—I caught
myself about to say Uncle Ormund’s name—“and I couldn’t go to
school, you let me take a nap with you. You kissed me on the head and
told me I’d feel better when I woke up.”
“Yes, yes I remember,” Grams said, looking over me now with a
smile. She looked at my wedding band. “You’re a grown man. You’re
“What?” Penny asked, but Grams hushed her.
“Do I have great-grandchildren?” Grams asked me.
“No. We tried, but—“
The bed seemed to waver suddenly, almost become translucent.
Surprise flickered across Grams’ face, but then the bed was back, solid,
and she was staring at me again.
“It was wrong to bring him here, Terra,” Grams said. “He doesn’t
belong. You’ll have to show him out.”
“No, please!” Penny rushed to the foot ofthe bed and got down on
her knees to beg.
“She’s not Terra,” I told Grams, stepping forward. “She’s not your
daughter. Her name is Penny and she’s going to leave with me.”
Erica and I tried having kids. After we finished grad school at
Berkeley, we tried like hell. When nothing happened we both went to
the doctor. I had strong enough swimmers, and there wasn’t anything
wrong with Erica; our DNA just wouldn’t combine and stick. We tried
in vitro fertilization and for a while it seemed like it was going to
happen—we moved out of our flat in the City and bought a huge house
in a gated community on the outskirts of Vegas, where I took a new job
with a bigger firm—but five and half months into it Erica miscarried. It
was a mess. The doctors said she’d never be able to get pregnant again.
Erica always loved kids; she’s brilliant, yet still decided to be a
teacher for Christ’s sake. Not being able to have kids is what ruined us.
Standing there in Grams’ room with Penny, it wasn’t lost on me
that Penny was about the same age our child would have been. I got
this crazy idea that I would take Penny home, that she would live with
Erica and me, and everything would be alright again. I didn’t think of
Penny’s own mother, I didn’t think of Grams or what would happen
when I took Penny away from whatever this place was. I just knew I
wasn’t going to leave Penny behind.
Grams laughed when I told her Penny was coming with me. Like
she was laughing at a foolish child.
“Tell Dedrick goodbye, Terra, and show him the way out.”
“She’s not your daughter, you can’t keep her,” I insisted. “You’re
not even real. You’re dead.”
Grams’ skin mottled away again and she rose beneath her covers.
“No!” Penny screamed, jumping up and away from the bed. I
grabbed her hand and tugged her behind me.
“You will not take her away from me again!” Grams screamed. She
was suddenly out from beneath the covers. Her fingers crinkled
together as if in arthritic seizure, then melded together. New limbs
sprouted beneath her paisley nightgown.
I spun to the door but it slammed itself closed and when I yanked
at the doorknob the whole wall flexed and wavered inward like a flat
panel of rubber. The door wouldn’t open. It was as if it had fused with
the wall itself. I turned back around to see Grams stalking towards me,
hunched over, hands—no, tentacles —outstretched. Her eyes were
mad. I could see rotting tendons where sections of her skin crumbled
away like burnt paper.
“God damn you, Ormund,” she hissed, “I’ll not let you take her
away from me again.”
“Mother, please don’t,” Penny pleaded. She tried getting in Grams’
way, but Grams shoved her aside and then had her bony hands
wrapped around my neck, had me pinned back against the wall.
“I’ll kill you, Ormund,” she spat in my face. The stench of shit and
rot bowled over me.
54 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 55
I’m not Ormund, I tried saying but it came out in an imperceptible
wheeze. Her bony hands were cold, like steel cables constricting
around my throat. I couldn’t pull them away. I’m Dedrick, I tried telling
her. Your grandson.
“Please, stop,” Penny was crying over and over again.
I couldn’t breathe. Spots riddled my vision. In a panicked fury I
tried wrenching myself free, but Grams’ grip only tightened.
My grandmother’s ghost is killing me, was all I could think as
everything turned to gray.
I awoke in a pink room. My head was sunk in a down pillow with
pink ruffles around the edges, and a pink and purple paisley-flowered
bedspread was pulled over me. Penny lay curled up at my side.
“Are you alive?” she whispered.
It occurred to me that I very likely wasn’t alive. I knew Grams was
dead, and it didn’t make sense for Penny to still be twelve unless she
had died when she was twelve. And here I was with them. What did
that leave? The fall down the stairs into the cellar, I decided. I fell and
broke my neck. Died instantly.
The thing was, my throat hurt from the strangling Grams gave me.
I swallowed painfully. Could dead people be injured? Feel physical
pain? And I could smell Penny’s hair. It smelled like grass and spring
“I guess I’m alive,” I decided. “What happened?”
“Mother tried to kill you, but I made her stop.”
“She thought I was my uncle.”
“I told you, she gets confused.”
A mad woman in life, a mad woman in death, I thought. She thinks
I’m Ormund, thinks Penny is my mother, Terra.
I propped myself up on my elbows and looked around the
bedroom. “Where are we?”
“In my room,” she said, sitting up and looking around. “I mean,
This was my mother’s old room, I realized, but different. I threw the
covers off and got to my feet. I had never been allowed to go into my
mother’s room as a kid, but Penny and I had snuck in a few times when
Uncle Ormund was away or busy working outside. I remember it being
simply furnished, with a single bed, nightstand, and dresser. It was the
smallest room in the house, square, with a walk-in closet. The layout
of this room was exactly the same. It was all wrong, though. Interior
shutters I never remembered were closed over the window and locked
shut with a huge padlock. A shelf above the window was filled with
teddy bears and stuffed unicorns and butterflies, but all their faces were
demented—deformed with mismatched, misplaced buttons and
stitching. A mural was on the wall above the bed, painted in pastel
colors like a child’s storybook illustration, but depicting a grisly scene
with a girl gazing down from the top of a tower at a pile of decapitated,
disemboweled men’s corpses. The rest of the walls were wallpapered
with pink flowers, the hardwood floor was bleached white, and the
ceiling painted pink. Penny hated pink.
“Mother said you could stay here for awhile,” Penny said. “But
when she’s done resting, you’ll have to go.”
It took me a moment to comprehend what she had said. “Wait,
“No, she rests. It’s hard for her to keep the house...clean. For some
reason you made her more tired than usual.”
“My neck must have worn her hands out,” I remarked, realizing the
opportunity afforded to us. “C’mon, we have to leave while she’s
Penny didn’t move from the bed. “No. She’ll know if I try to leave.
She’ll never let me go. Please, Dedrick, just stay here with me.”
I didn’t know what to say. I certainly had no intention of leaving
Penny behind, but I wasn’t about to stay in the house either. I had to
get her out of there.
“You’re sure Grams will wake up if we try to leave?” I asked.
“Will she try to stop us?”
“She’ll stop us.”
“Alright,” I said, thinking about the choking I’d gotten. Grams had
been reasonable enough before I told her I was taking Penny away, I
realized. I was able to remind her who I was and she was rational. If
I could prove to her that Penny wasn’t my mother, there was a good
chance she would let us both go. “Where are all the pictures?” I asked
“Yes, there were pictures—photographs—hanging on the walls
when I was kid. If we can find one of my mom, I can convince Grams
that you’re not her and we can leave.”
56 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 57
“There aren’t any pictures on the walls,” Penny said, shaking her
“They must be somewhere. Haven’t you seen any pictures all these
“No,” said Penny, but with little conviction. It was evident she was
trying to think of or remember something. “I... I haven’t seen any
pictures, but there are some places in the house I’ve never been too.”
“Because they’re locked.”
“I have keys...” As soon as I said this, I realized that I actually
didn’t have the keys, that I hadn’t seen them since my fall down the
basement stairs. I had them with me when I chased after Penny, I was
sure. “Shit, my key ring...”
Penny hopped out of the bed and smiled as she opened the top
drawer of her nightstand. “These keys?”
I hugged her and took my key ring.
“They fell off your belt when you fell, so I grabbed them,” she
“Smart girl. Let’s go find some photos.”
“Anywhere but your uncle’s room,” she pleaded. “I promised
Mother to never go in there. I’ll take you to the other parts of the house,
“Alright, what other parts of the house are locked?”
“The study, your room... and the attic.”
I didn’t know that I really wanted to see my room, and the attic
was probably a dusty mess, so I led the way to the study.
The first key I tried opened the door without so much as a click.
Inside, the study looked much as I remembered it, at first. There was
the huge fireplace with the soot-blackened brick mantle along the west
wall. The entire north wall was covered with bookshelves. There was
the big Persian carpet and the flattop oak desk in the middle of the
room, and along the east wall a day bed. The burnished brass
chandelier lit the room warmly.
There were no photographs on the walls like I remembered, though.
I went to the desk, hoping to find something in the drawers, but
quickly found there were no drawers. The surface of the desk was
smooth where the drawers should have been. There weren’t even any
keyholes. I got on my knees and looked underneath the desk. No
hardware, no hinges, sliders or even nails. It was as if the whole desk
was made of a solid piece of wood. I checked where the legs met with
the body of the desk, where the dovetail joints should have been, but
there were no joints, just one continuous piece of wood with the grain
curving impossibly from vertical to horizontal as it went from leg to
I stood up and turned to see Penny watching me from the daybed.
“There’s nothing here,” I told her. “Let’s go.”
“Not yet. I want you to read me a story.”
I was impatient to move on and find a photograph of my mother
before Grams awoke, but when I opened my mouth to tell Penny as
much, the words stuck in my mouth. She was pouting her lips out at
me, and her blue eyes were spread wide. She was using the same
tactics she used when I was twelve to get her way. It had the same
effect on me as an adult.
“Please?” she asked. “Mother reads me stories sometimes, but
“Alright,” I agreed without even a fight. “Something short, though.”
She smiled and clapped her little hands together as I went to the
bookshelves. I went to the section with all the stuff I liked as a kid:
Grimm’s fairy tales; the Burroughs’ Tarzan and Mars books; the Jules
Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson adventures; Asimov’s space
civilization novels. None of the books here had words on the spines,
though. I gazed across the expanse of books and saw that none of
them had titles. Frowning, I grabbed one and opened it. Despite the
seeming antiquity of the binding, the pages were not yellowed with
time. In plain type, the cover sheet read, Rapunzel, with no author
by-line or any other publication information. On the next page, the type
was much more garish and the border was decorated with leafy vines.
The book was odd, but I gave it little thought at the moment and sat
down on the daybed beside Penny. She nestled against me and I began
“A long time ago there lived a man and a woman in a fair castle.
One spring day they had a beautiful baby daughter and they were very
proud and all the servants could not help but love the little princess. As
she grew she became more beautiful and her voice that of an angel.
Her beauty became renown throughout the kingdom and before long
young men were paying call to woo the princess in marriage.
“The mother and father, being honorable parents, turned away the
58 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 59
would-be suitors. ‘Only a prince is fit for our daughter’s hand,’ said
“Along one day came a devious man, disguised as a servant so as
to escape the eye of the vigilant parents. He began whispering lies into
the princess’s ear. He spoke of love and far off lands, thinking he could
steal her away in the night. The mother learned of his plan, however,
and became wroth. With her kitchen knife she gelded him, then fed his
tripe to the other suitors...”
I stopped, realizing this wasn’t the real Rapunzell was reading, or
anything even remotely close. I flipped to the next page and to my
horror saw an illustration of a man being gelded. I slammed the book
“What about the tower part?” Penny complained. “You can’t stop
“The story is wrong,” I said, returning the book to the bookshelf
and grabbing another. I opened the new book and saw it too was titled
Rapunzel. The first illustration I flipped to was similar to the mural in
Penny’s room—a princess in a tower with corpses lying on the ground
below. I flipped through it further and saw that the story ended within
the first ten pages and that the remainder of the book was filled with
drawings of towers and dead suitors. I tossed the book to the ground
and grabbed another. Same title, more gruesome pictures. The next
book was the same. Cracked skulls. Viscera. Shit. Rent open testes.
They were all the same.
I stopped on an illustration of a woman chained to the wall in a
circular chamber. It was almost imperceptible at first, but the woman
appeared to waiver, to move. I blinked my eyes and leaned in closer to
see if I was imagining things and suddenly the woman’s mouth
snapped out of the book at me, no longer a drawing but a miniature
bear trap chained to the page. I jerked my face away and let out a cry
as I slammed the book shut.
“What’s wrong?” Penny asked.
It took me a moment to catch my breath before I could respond.
“Have you seen these books before? Did Grams read to you from
Penny didn’t say anything, just looked confused. My heart still
beating furiously, I grabbed her by the hand and pulled her out of the
Something looked different about the downstairs floor, as if it was
constricting around us, the walls and ceiling convex or converging, but
when I focused on any particular area, it looked perfectly normal. Still,
after the books I was scared and not about to deem anything impossi¬
ble. I led Penny up the stairs and to my room, hoping to find it in the
same condition as when I was a kid. I remembered having a little photo
album on my dresser with a picture of my mom holding me when I was
a baby. Rationally, I should have looked there first, but I knew the
room wouldn’t be what I expected.
I stopped at the door, breathing heavily, Penny holding one of my
hands. With my free hand I grabbed my key ring and unlocked the
door. Like with the library door there was no resistance. It opened and
we stepped inside to a sewing room.
Penny was more surprised than me. “Hey, this isn’t your room.”
“Not yet,” I said. “It was a sewing room before I was born.”
“But I...” She stopped and looked at me, then down at the floor. It
should have occurred to me then that she knew more than she was
letting on, but I just thought her surprised like me.
I grabbed the pulley on the old manual-powered sewing machine
and found that it wouldn’t move. I thought it was merely ceased up at
first, but when I leaned closer I saw that the whole thing was one solid
piece, just like the desk in the library. The whole house was filled with
props I began to realize. I ushered Penny out of the room and closed
the door behind us, knowing full well it was pointless to search the
room for pictures.
We walked down the hallway toward the attic entrance, even
though I was feeling less and less confident we were going to find
photographs anywhere in the house.
“Mother never lets me go into the attic,” Penny said, a little edge in
her voice. She was scared. I started to say something to comfort her,
but without warning the floor gave out beneath my left foot.
Penny screamed as I lurched forward onto my elbows and free
knee with a grunt. The sensation was too disorienting for me to scream.
There had been no crack of the wood floorboards breaking, no sound
at all. Instead, it was as if my foot had stepped through a soft mem¬
brane into—what?—nothingness, I guess—utter void, absolute
coldness, an airless breeze. I could feel my pant-leg fluttering. The hairs
on my calf stood on end.
With Penny’s frantic help I yanked my leg free and the floor closed
up, once again solid. I pulled my pant leg up to check my leg, certain
60 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 61
it would be withered or frostbitten. It was fine, though. I looked at
Penny and we both sat there for a moment, breathing heavily.
“That’s never happened before,” Penny said. I could definitely hear
doubt in her voice now, and that rattled me even more.
Without so much as a word, I grabbed her hand and ran to the
attic door, determined to get the hell out of the house as soon as
Again, the first key I tried worked and the door opened without
protest. Before us rose a steep staircase, amazingly free of dust and
cobwebs. The few times I had dared peak into the attic as a kid, there
had always been dust and cobwebs. I stepped through the threshold
of the doorway and looked up the stairs; it was dim, but not utterly
“Up we go,” I said and went first.
Before we even reached the top of the staircase we started hearing
noises: weird skitterings across the floorboards, muffled squeaks, and
distant bells. I motioned for Penny to stop and peered up out of the
stairwell; everything went silent. I walked the rest of the way up the
stairs and looked about. The attic space was expansive, stretching out
in all directions so much that the walls were lost in darkness. The only
indication of a boundary at all was a series of countless windows, so
far away they looked the size of matchbooks.
Immense as it was, the attic was packed with junk. Old furniture,
chests, crates, cardboard boxes tied together with twine, and so many
toys it was mind-boggling. Dolls, doll-houses, stuffed animals, wagons,
tea-sets, blocks, rocking horses—you name it, it was there.
“It’s alright,” I said to Penny, in a whisper. She stepped up to my
side and her eyes widened as she scanned the attic. “Let’s start looking
through the boxes first,” I told her. “Let me know if you find any with
photographs inside.” She nodded, but said nothing as I started tearing
open the closest box.
The twine broke away easily, but when I flipped open the flaps I
found nothing inside but white, cotton stuffing. I grabbed another box;
it was filled with the same. I moved to a different stack of boxes, and
found more stuffing. Props, I realized, just like downstairs. Was nothing
in this house real?
“C’mon,” I said to Penny, heading for the stairwell.
I stopped and saw that she was holding a doll.
“We don’t have time to play,” I told her.
“I’m not playing, Dedrick. Just look, please.”
I sighed, thinking she was just being silly, but went to look at the
doll to appease her so we could get the hell out of there. When she held
the porcelain-faced doll out to me, though, I recoiled back in horror.
Like the dolls and stuffed animals in Penny’s room, this doll’s face was
hideously deformed, but more shocking was that it was bleeding.
Bleeding from between its legs onto its white dress and down its white
“Look under her dress,” Penny said. She had tears in her eyes.
“Penny, no dammit!” I yelled, snatching the doll away from her
and feeling blood squish out from the soft body onto my hand. In
revulsion, I tossed the doll aside and its porcelain head shattered on
the floor. On impact, the whole attic seemed to suck inward and I was
overcome with vertigo. Penny staggered sideways into me and I almost
lost my footing, but then everything reoriented and it was deathly still.
Something skittered across the floor in the distance. A second later
something squeaked closer by.
“Let’s go,” Penny whispered.
I was of like mind and grabbed her hand to lead her down the
stairs, but when we turned a huge wooden soldier stood blocking our
way. It was nearly three feet tall, with a red-painted uniform, and a
wooden rifle in its right hand. It hadn’t been there before. I moved to
step around it, but it thrust its rifle outward to bar our way and I froze.
Its eyes were following me.
“Penny,” I whispered, letting go her hand. “You go around it to the
right and down the stairs. I’ll keep its attention on me.”
“I don’t wanna leave you, Dedrick.”
“Just go, Penny.” I left nothing in my voice for her to protest to. She
nodded and slowly moved to the right. I went to the left. The soldier’s
eyes stayed on the both of us—one watching her, one watching
me—and it took a step backward to better guard the stairwell. I
snapped my fingers to attract its attention, but the soldier’s only
response was to level its rifle towards me. At the same time, something
moved behind me. I dared not take my eyes off the soldier or Penny,
though. I stepped forward and the hammer clicked back on the
I stopped. Something squeaked off to my right. Something else
rattled in the distance behind Penny. More noises closed in around us.
I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I knew our opportunity
was slipping away. Without another thought, I lunged at the soldier,
62 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 63
intent on kicking it back away from the stairwell. The rifle shot cracked
out before 1 even got close. I toppled backward, whiteness filling my
vision and my left ear ringing and burning. I heard Penny scream, as
if off in the distance, and I struggled back to my feet, squeezing my
eyes open and shut to try and regain my sight. I was overcome with a
spell of dizziness and nausea. Something hit my leg—a metal wagon,
I think—and I lost my balance to stagger sideways into a heap of
I lay there on the crumpled boxes in a daze for a moment, then
something bit my arm. The new pain brought me back to my senses
and 1 flung whatever it was on my arm away with a shout and jumped
to my feet. Toys were everywhere. They were alive, and all mad as hell,
swarming across the floor. Penny had a half dozen dolls clinging to her
arms and hair. I was at her side in two strides and started yanking
them off her. One of them bit at my finger as I pulled it away and with
a curse I raised it above my head to dash it into the ground.
“No!” Penny screamed, but I was in a rage. I threw the doll to the
floor and its head shattered.
Like when I’d thrown the bloody doll, the attic sucked inward. This
time, all the toys around us screeched and went berserk. Still not
realizing what I was doing, I tore the rest of the dolls from Penny and
kicked away the stuffed animals at my feet. A rubber band helicopter
buzzed by my ear and I swatted it away like a fly. I grabbed the little
red wagon by the handle and flung it off into the distance. The toy
soldier thrust its bayoneted rifle at me, but this time I was quicker. I
grabbed the rifle and kicked the soldier in the head, like you’d kick
open a door. It’s head cracked and bent backward. I kicked it again,
this time knocking the head clean off, and the floor buckled beneath
Penny screamed and we both fell to our hands and knees. I lunged
sideways to grab her by the wrist and pulled her towards the stair rails,
which I could see rising and falling in the distance like the forecastle of
a ship on a stormy sea. I tried to stand and walk, but it was like trying
to walk on a water mattress, so we crawled. Toys got in our way, but
they were having more trouble than we were and their faces were
contorted in pain. The headless, bloody doll staggered in front of us to
bar our way, but when I brushed it aside, it fell over and began
writhing as if it were having a seizure.
It seemed impossibly far to the stairs, but we trudged forward, and
suddenly we were swept up with a swell of the floor and slid straight
down into the stairwell, only to tumble down the entire staircase and
burst through the door at the bottom.
When we both regained our senses, the floor had quit buckling
beneath us, but the house still groaned. I felt a rumbling in my tailbone
and wrists as I pushed myself up into a sitting position. A sub-sonic
rumbling filled the base of my skull.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Mother. We’ve hurt her.”
“The house. It’s part of her.”
I think I must’ve been in shock because I didn’t comprehend what
she was saying. My left ear was throbbing. I touched it, only to find my
hand covered in blood. A small chunk of my earlobe was gone.
“Are you alright?” Penny asked, seeing the blood and using the
folds of her pink dress to dab at my ear.
“You’re going to ruin your dress,” I said, somehow concerned
about that of all things.
“I hate this dress.”
“I know,” I replied, lurching to my feet. “That’s why we need to get
you out of here.”
“No.” She grabbed at my arm. “Please, just stay here with me. If we
hide in my room, and you quit messing the house up, maybe mother
will forget you’re here.”
The floor rocked beneath our feet and a deep groan rumbled
somewhere far in the distance. Something plodded down the steps in
the attic above us.
“I don’t think she’s going to forget,” I said. “We need to leave
“Please, we’II be safe in my room,” Penny pleaded.
All I could think about was the hideous stuffed animals and dolls
in her room. There was no way in hell I was going in there.
“How do we get out of here, Penny?”
“There’s no way out.”
“What if we make a run for it, right out the front door? Will she be
able to catch us?”
“No. We can’t go out the front door. It won’t open.”
“I have all the keys,” I reminded her.
64 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 65
“It’s not real. There’s not even a keyhole.”
“How the hell do we get out of here, then?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, lowering her eyes and fidgeting in closer
to me to grab my hand. “Let’s just go hide in my room.”
There were more footsteps on the stairs above us. The polished
wood floor trembled beneath our feet. It didn’t occur to me that Penny
might be lying. My thoughts went to the last place in the house that
was locked, that she was forbidden from: Uncle Ormund’s room. I
wasn’t hoping to find photographs of my mother anymore, but rather
a way out of this house. I grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her down
“Dedrick!” she cried when she realized where I was going. “No!”
I thrust a key into the keyhole of Uncle Ormund’s door. “Stay by
my side,” I told Penny, then pushed open the door.
All was silent in Uncle Ormund’s bedroom. I closed the door
behind us and locked it, thinking to keep away whatever was following
us from the attic, be it demented toys or Grams. I was not prepared for
what I saw when I turned around to face the room. Gone was the
posturepedic bed Uncle Ormund died in. In its place was an old
canopied bed and lying atop it, a monstrosity of a man—no, a
nightmare beast—what Penny thought to be my uncle—deep in
slumber. A country-flower bedspread covered most of its mountainous
body, but its head and one arm protruded from beneath the covers. Its
fist and knuckles were simian in nature, orange and bristling with black
hair. Its head was bulbous —bald—with huge, fleshy mounds for
eyebrows, deep-sunken eye sockets, a bovine nose, and a row of
shark-like teeth protruding beneath thin, black lips. The creature
snored, a bass-tone rasp.
Penny clutched her arms around my waist and tried pulling me
back towards the door. I was stunned, paralyzed. Penny fumbled for
my key ring and at first I grabbed at it too, thinking to flee. I caught
myself, though, and took a deep breath. This was the master bedroom,
I reminded myself. This had to be the way to get out. Why else would
there be a hideous beast here to guard it?
I motioned for Penny to stay put and be quiet, then turned to
survey the room. Although the posturepedic bed, flat-panel television,
and piles of garbage were gone, the room still had the same layout as
I remembered. I stepped silently to one of the blackened windows first,
thinking to open it and climb out. The window was solid, though—a
fucking prop, just like everything else in the house. I glanced to make
sure the beast was still sound asleep, then scanned the ceiling, hoping
to find some sort of panel or entrance leading upward, and outward.
There was nothing.
I made for the bathroom, stepping silently—heel-to-toe, heel-to-
toe. The beast in the bed didn’t stir.
The bathroom wasn’t how I remembered it, but it was a normal
looking, early 20th century bathroom: porcelain tub, freestanding sink,
and mirrored vanity cabinet. The blackened window was as fake as the
ones in the main room.
I stepped back out into the bedroom, knowing full well there was
only one more place to look. Penny was still standing petrified by the
door. The beast still lay snoring on the bed. I stepped towards the
closet and opened the door. The closet was filled with clothes: men’s
work clothes and suits on the right side, women’s dresses and gowns
on the left. I reached outward and ran my hands over the back wall,
hoping to find a way out—a doorway, the seam to a secret compart¬
ment, anything. The wall was smooth. I pushed aside the clothes to
search both sidewalls. Nothing. There was no way out. At least not here
in Uncle Ormund’s room.
In defeat, I let my hands drop to my side. My right hand slapped
the key ring hanging at my belt, and I suddenly remembered the chest
I’d found earlier in the closet, the one with all the letters. My heart
thumped in my chest. It only made sense. Uncle Ormund had left me
the key to the chest with his will. It had to be the way out.
I spun around, looking on the shelves above the clothes racks for
the chest, but saw nothing but boxes and folded linens. The ceiling was
taller than it should have been, and the stacks of boxes went higher
than I could see. I reached up and grabbed the bottom of the shelf on
the right and tested it. It seemed solid enough, so I started to pull
myself up, thinking to climb onto the shelf to better see all the boxes.
I got one leg up onto the shelf, then an elbow. I grunted and shifted my
weight to roll up onto the shelf and that’s when it broke.
The noise of boxes and clothes falling was deafening. I hit the floor
with a thud and covered my head as more and more boxes and suits
and coveralls fell atop me. When at last everything went still, I held my
breath and listened. All was silent.
66 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 67
I pushed aside the junk on top of me as quietly as I could and sat
up to peer out the closet. All was still silent, but the beast on the bed
“Penny?” I whispered. There was no response, so I repeated her
name in a hiss. “Penny?” Something big shuffled across the floor
outside the closet. “Penny!” This time I yelled out her name and
stumbled out of the closet, only to find myself standing face to face
with the beast. I back stepped, looking frantically about for Penny, but
she was gone.
The beast lumbered towards me, its right arm dragging on the
ground, its left one withered and curled up along its side. In terror, I
stumbled into the closet accidentally and grabbed the first thing I could
find to protect myself: the fallen closet hanger rod. The beast filled the
“Uncle Ormund! It’s me. Dedrick. It’s okay.”
The beast responded with a rumbling growl and knocked the closet
doorframe away with its good arm. I screamed and thrust out the
hanger rod to keep the monster at bay. It snorted when I hit it in the
chest and swiped the rod away. I staggered to the side, but managed
to prod it back one more time. When I thrust at it a third time, the
beast was ready. It snatched the rod from my hands and smashed it
against the closet wall with a roar.
“Uncle Ormund! No!”
It lunged at me and I fell back to stay out of its grasp. I grabbed
whatever I could get my hands on—boxes, hangers, clothes—to throw
in the direction of the monster, but it wasn’t fazed. It reached out with
its good arm and grabbed me by the throat.
“Ormund,” I squeaked as it lifted me up into the air. I knew it
couldn’t really be my uncle, but still I tried. “Ormund!”
The ape-like hand constricted around my throat. I gripped its
fingers, tried to pull them away with all my strength, but it was
pointless. I craned my neck sideways and managed to get a fold of
hand-flesh into my mouth. I bit down as hard as I could and felt the
flesh give way beneath my teeth. Instead of blood, my mouth filled
with hot, bile tasting liquid. The monster roared out in pain and threw
me into the wall. I was stunned, half-vomiting, but knew this was my
only chance for escape, so forced myself to roll towards the door,
hoping to pass between the beast’s legs and out the door. The beast
was ready for me, though. It pinned me down with its good arm and
then contorted its entire torso to flog me across the face with its lame
arm like a whip.
The inside of my cheek split on my teeth and blood filled my
mouth. I held up my arms to protect myself from the next blow, but the
beast beat them away, and before I knew it I was getting pummeled.
I curled up into the fetal position as it hit me again and again. My head
was spinning, my consciousness wavering... and then the blows
The floor rumbled beneath me and more boxes fell from the closet
shelves. I opened my eyes and looked at the beast, expecting to see it
winding up for the final, killing blow. It wasn’t looking at me, though.
Its ears were perked up, its head cocked sideways. The floor shook
more violently and suddenly there was a great explosion of wood
around me and a wraith-like form—a blur of tendons and teeth—flew
out of nowhere and tackled the beast. The beast roared like a bear, but
the wraith screeched even louder, like a freight train horn, blotting out
the beast’s cry.
I scrambled backward deeper into the closet, completely disori¬
ented and baffled by what was happening, but then Penny was there,
grabbing my hand and pulling me up.
The hardwood floor in the hallway began splitting like a slab of
concrete during an earthquake. The wall lanterns sputtered, one
moment snuffed out, the next moment glaring with phosphorescent
brilliance. The two grappling creatures in the master bedroom behind
us screeched and the walls shook. Chunks of plaster rained down on
our heads from the ceiling.
Still in a daze, I let Penny lead me down the rocking stairs. It took
me a moment more to realize she was taking us to Grams’ room.
“No, wait!” I yelled, between spitting out mouthfuls of blood.
“What are you doing?”
Penny tried to pull me onward, but I stopped her in the archway
between the great room and the breakfast nook while furniture, lamps,
and wall hangings toppled around us.
“Penny, we can’t go in there. She’ll kill me.”
“She’s upstairs, dummy—fighting your uncle.”
Of course. The wraith was Grams. She had saved me.
Penny tugged at my hands to get my attention. “Promise me,
Dedrick, if I show you the way out you’ll take me with you.”
68 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 69
“There’s a way out?”
“Promise me, Dedrick.”
“Yes, I promise. Of course.”
“Promise you’ll keep me with you forever, no matter what hap¬
An explosion boomed upstairs and the whole house lurched as if
it were spinning on some diagonally opposed axis. Penny careened into
me and we both toppled to the ground.
“Go!” I yelled, scrambling up to my hands and knees.
Penny wouldn’t budge. “Promise me, Dedrick.”
“I told you, yes. I promise I’ll take you with me if we get out of
“Yes, forever. Now get us the hell out of here.”
Penny pecked me on the cheek, then spun away and sprinted
towards Grams’ room. I followed after as fast as I could, dodging the
sliding chairs and table in the breakfast nook. Penny threw open the
door and I followed her in, only to stop with a gasp. The room reeked
of shit. The bed was overturned and torn apart, and hanging from the
wall above the bed were chains with broken manacles at the end.
Penny was unfazed. She slammed the door behind us and went
straight to the basement hatch in the middle of the floor. She flipped it
open and disappeared into the floor. I hesitated for a moment,
remembering my fall the last time I went down these stairs, but there
was another explosion upstairs and the ceiling beam above me split
and began to cave in. I scrambled after Penny and closed the hatch just
as the ceiling beam crashed downward and slammed into the floor
We were in utter darkness.
At some point I realized we were walking up the stairs, not down
them. By that point we’d been traversing step after step through
blackness for ten minutes or more and so I was neither expecting to
suddenly find ourselves in the Hearne basement nor all that surprised
to find we were now climbing—spiraling slowly upward in a counter¬
clockwise direction. Honestly, I felt relieved to be climbing upward
rather than delving deeper into whatever hellhole we were in.
“Where do these stairs lead?” I asked Penny.
“To the house where I found you.”
“The real house?”
She said nothing. Maybe she nodded or shrugged, but in the
darkness I couldn’t tell and I couldn’t help but feel like she was keeping
more secrets from me.
“Penny, how did you get out of my uncle’s room? The door was
locked and you didn’t have the keys.”
“I dunno. It wasn’t locked, I guess.”
“It was locked. Pm sure of it.”
Again she said nothing.
“Why didn’t you tell me there was a way out?”
“It’s dangerous. We shouldn’t be talking.”
“Well, too bad,” I said. “We’re going to talk about it.”
I reached forward into the darkness and grabbed her, more
forcefully than I intended, but she’d led me around on a wild goose
chase in that house—almost getting the both of us killed—when she
knew full well the entire time where the real way out was. And now
here she was dismissing my questions like I was the child.
“Dedrick, please, I’ll tell you when we get out. Not now.”
“No, what’s going on, Penny? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We couldn’t have got out anyway. Mother was there in her room.
The only reason we got out is because you woke your uncle and she
had to go fight him.”
“You still could have told me. You lied to me, Penny.”
“Please, be quiet,” she pleaded, grabbing onto my arms. “You’re
being too loud.”
I was hearing none of it. “Why’d you lie, Penny? Why did you drag
me around that whole goddamned house, then try to keep me—“
I stopped mid-sentence, for we were suddenly standing in a dining
room: the Hearne dining room, but without any walls, and a low,
obtrusive ceiling. A girl about the same age as Penny sat at the table
staring down at a book, and an older boy loomed behind her. The girl
wore a simple country dress, had her hair up in braided pigtails. The
boy wore a loose knit white shirt and blue overalls.
“Mistress Cecil told me she saw you peeking at Billy Boyden’s test,
Terra,” the boy said, and I inhaled sharply, realizing I was looking at
Uncle Ormund and my mother as children. “Are you saying she’s a
liar?” Ormund continued.
My mother said nothing, kept staring down at her book. Ormund
grabbed her around the chin and yanked her head to look up at him.
70 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 71
“Ow!” she cried and he smacked her across the face with his other
“Answer me, Terra! Did you cheat? Did you copy off of Billy
“I didn’t know the answer,” she sobbed.
Ormund raised his hand to smack her again and I instinctively
moved forward to stop him, but Penny grabbed me around the waist
from behind and Ormund stayed his hand regardless. He looked up
from my mother, toward me and Penny I thought at first, but then I
realized he was looking past us, and his head was cocked slightly as if
listening to someone speak from a hilltop behind us.
“Mother,” he said after a moment, “She’s turning into a little liar
and a cheat. If I’m not allowed to her punish her, how is she to learn?”
My mother looked up then, toward the ceiling. She nodded as if it
were talking to her. “Yes, mother,” she said, and then she got up and
ran out of the room into the surrounding shadows.
“I’m warning you, Mother,” Ormund said, “She a rotten girl—she
Ormund disappeared as he said this and then the dining room, and
Penny and I were left standing on the dark staircase again, her arms
still clutched around my waist.
“Weird things always happen like that on the stairs,” Penny said
in a hushed voice as we continued upward. “That’s why mother doesn’t
like me playing here.”
It was starting to make some sort sense to me now. We were caught
in Grams’ memory vaults, and the house below us—the fake
house—was some kind of sanctuary—or prison—Grams had built for
“That girl was my mother,” I whispered to Penny. “At least, it was
my mother fifty years ago or so. And the boy was my uncle.”
“They don’t usually last that long.”
“What doesn’t? The memories?”
“Yeah, I guess. I usually just see a few people or a room every once
in a while or hear people talking and they disappear real quick.”
Suddenly it was light and we were walking through a wall-less
bedroom. It was simply furnished, with a single bed, nightstand, and
dresser. It was my mother’s room. It was empty and it disappeared
after a moment and we were in darkness again.
“Like that?” I asked.
“Could it be that we hurt Grams? Or that the monster—my
uncle—hurt her?” I didn’t really believe the monster was my uncle, but
rather another prop, gone mad like all the toys, and Grams, but I didn’t
tell that to Penny.
“Maybe,” she said. “The house was messed up pretty awful and
that usually makes her tired.”
A sudden thought occurred to me. “My uncle couldn’t kill her,
“I don’t think so,” she said, but she didn’t sound sure.
I couldn’t help but think how people always said that if you died
in a dream your heart would stop and you’d never wake up. If Grams
died while we were trapped in this world of memories she’d created,
where did that leave us? Then again, she was already dead, wasn’t
she? Every time I tried to get my head around what was going on a
myriad of answerless questions boggled my mind and left me more
confused than before.
We trudged onward, up the dark stairs. After a while Penny called
a halt and I could hear her struggling with something.
“My shoes are hurting. I’m taking them off.”
“You should probably keep them on,” I told her. “It’s dark and God
knows what you might step on in here.”
“They hurt. I’m not wearing them anymore.”
She was determined so I let the matter go and we continued on, her
now barefoot. Shortly thereafter we found ourselves in the great room,
which, like my mother’s bedroom, was unoccupied and without walls.
We passed through the room wordlessly and back into darkness. The
kitchen appeared and disappeared as we continued on and I began to
relax a little, thinking that this would maybe be the extent of our
journey—walking up stairs and passing through a series of unoccupied
rooms—but then we heard a startled shriek and found ourselves once
again in my mother’s room.
I have no childhood memories of my mother, and Uncle Ormund
never told me much about her other than to make it clear that she had
72 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 73
abandoned me. When, as an adult, I finally met my mother, I learned
little from her. She was excited to meet me, excited to be friends, but
she didn’t want to be my mother, didn’t want to tell me about her past.
Anything I knew about my mother was based on the whispers I heard
behind my back as a child, the taunts I sometimes heard from people
who didn’t like the Hearne family. I knew my mother got pregnant with
me young, and unmarried. My uncle wouldn’t tell me who my father
was, but by the time I was nine or ten I realized that the image looking
back at me in mirrors was too dark-haired and brown-eyed to be a
proper, white Hearne boy.
Standing there in my mother’s room now, I knew right off that the
young man in bed with her was my father. He couldn’t have been more
than fifteen years old, a Hispanic boy with the first hints of a mustache.
His face was ashen as he looked up and around at the room.
My mother, no more than fourteen or fifteen years old herself, had
clutched the sheets around herself and she was crying. “I’m sorry, I’m
The young man—my father—jumped from beneath the bedding,
ashamed and covering himself as he grasped his dusty work clothes
from the floor. “I’m sorry, senora. Please, don’t send me and mi padre
away. I would like to marry your daughter very much. I will work very
hard. I promise you. Mi padre will help us buy a home to—“
The room shuddered and the young man blanched.
“No, Mother!” my mom screamed. “I love him. Don’t.”
My father pulled his pants on hastily. “Es bueno, mi amor,” he told
my mother. “I will go. She’s right. It’s best this way.”
My mother stood up from the bed with the sheets still clutched
around her and went to kiss him. The room shuddered again and she
halted. They both looked upward at the ceiling, and then my father ran
“Alright,” my mother said, nodding her head and still crying. “But
please, don’t tell Ormund. Whatever you do, don’t tell Ormund.”
“We should be there by now,” Penny said.
We’d been walking in silence for maybe half an hour after my
mother’s room disappeared.
“How long does it usually take?” I asked, only halfway paying
attention to what she was saying, so shaken I was by what I’d seen.
“I don’t know—it’s always different—but it’s never taken this long
“Penny, have you ever seen that memory before?” I asked finally.
“With my mother and that man?”
“No. But I heard his voice before. I heard him and your mom
making bedroom noises before.”
“Okay,” I said, meaning to end the conversation at that, but Penny
wasn’t about to let it go.
“Were they having S-E-X, Dedrick?”
“I don’t know,” I lied. “Forget about it.”
“Do you have S-E-X with the girl you’re married to? Do you like
“Penny!” I admonished her, too loudly I realized, but too late.
Cued by my voice, our surroundings lit up and we were standing
in the Hearne master bedroom, with the old canopied bed in the center.
Three people stood around it: my mother, maybe seven years old;
Uncle Ormund, no more than ten; and a doctor. On the bed was an old
man, Grandpa Hearne, I realized, although, he looked nothing like the
photographs I’d seen of him. He was frail and thin, and his face was
“Do it, Ormund!” Grandpa Hearne hollered.
“Mr. Hearne,” the doctor interrupted. “I hardly think it wise for you
to be drinking in your current state.”
“You and your advice can go to hell, for all the good it’s done me,”
Grandpa Hearn spat, spurning on a fit of coughing that racked his
“Pa,” my mother said when he’d settled, “You gonna be alright?”
A sound like distant thunder reverberated through the room.
“I don’t need a lecture from you, devil woman,” Grandpa Hearne
growled, glaring up at the room around him. “Now do as I told you,
Ormund. Never mind your mother.”
“She threw out all the whiskey,” Ormund said.
“Then get me some goddammed wine! I’m pretty sure we’ve got
some of that around.”
Ormund dashed away into the darkness. My mother stepped
toward the bed, tenderly, but Grandpa Hearne shooed her away.
“Ah, get the hell out of here. All of you. Get!” He fell into another
fit of coughing. My mother and the doctor disappeared. All that
74 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 75
remained was Grandpa Hearne on the bed and the room. Grandpa’s
coughing worsened and a globule of bloody mucous flung from his
nose and mouth as his eyes clenched in pain. His back arched and he
wheezed inward sharply before finally collapsing into an inert form on
the mattress. He slowly turned yellow and then he was gone. There was
a distant rumbling noise and then the canopied bed and room
Penny and I walked wordlessly for some time, her leading the way
upward through the dark and me following along, lost in my own
thoughts. At some point, she slowed and I was jarred out of my reverie.
She was breathing heavily and grunting in pain.
“Nothing, I just have a stomachache.”
“Do you want to stop and rest for a minute?” I asked.
“No,” she replied curtly, and I let the matter go, merely thinking her
weary. God knows, I was.
My ear throbbed and my cheek too. We trudged on, slower than
before, and I could hear Penny was struggling.
“When we get out of here, I’m going to take you to my home in
Nevada,” I said, thinking to take her mind off her upset stomach. “I
think you’ll like it. You’ll have your own room. And there’s a swimming
pool in the backyard.”
“Is it as big as Mother’s house?”
“No, but it’s newer, much more modern,” I replied, thinking what
a shock it was going to be for Penny to finally leave this place and see
how much things had changed in the last twenty odd years.
“Will your wife be there?”
“Yes, she lives there too. Her name is Erica. She’ll be excited to
“I don’t think I’ll like her.”
I was somewhat taken aback. “That’s not a very nice thing to say.
You’ve never even met her.”
She said nothing, only grunted again in pain. I felt as if I should say
something more—reprimand her for being rude, or tell her how sweet
Erica could be and how much Erica wanted a little girl—I didn’t know,
which—but we were suddenly in my mother’s room again and Penny
cried out. I pulled her back protectively and scanned the room for
danger, but it was empty except for the furnishings.
“What is it?” I asked, turning back to Penny, and I followed her
glance down to her legs and bare feet. They were covered in blood. All
the way down to her bare feet. “Oh my God, are you hurt?” I said,
kneeling down in front of her, but then I saw how thin the blood was,
saw how high up the pink dress was above her knees and how tightly
it was stretched across her chest, mashing down budding breasts that
had not been there before. She too noticed all these things.
“Have I flowered?”
I stood up and saw that she was taller, now shoulder height
compared to me. I remembered the shoes she discarded earlier because
they hurt her feet. Because she was outgrowing them. “Grams must be
losing control of you,” I said, grasping onto this sudden hope rather
than having to further consider what was happening to Penny. “We
must be close. We have to keep going.”
I made to grab her hand and move on, but a panic-stricken look
crossed her face and she nudged her head downward at her blood
“Right, sorry,” I said, looking around the room for something she
could wear. The closet door was slightly ajar. I opened it and to my
relief found a closet full of dresses. I picked the most casual looking
one and inspected it. It was only a little big for Penny by my estimation
and looked corporeal enough, although, there were no visible threads
holding the seams together. I tossed it to her and turned away so she
could change. “Quickly,” I urged her.
“What about my panties?” she asked after a moment.
I went to the dresser, but found it to be inoperable, like all the prop
furniture in the fake house below. “You’re just going to have to go
without,” I said. She looked at me with a wry expression, nodded, and
slipped off her sodden undergarment beneath the new dress that hung
loosely on her shoulders. I kept my eyes averted from the pile of
blood-soaked clothes on the floor and motioned for her to lead the
way. She did so with a new vigor in her step.
The room disappeared behind us and we started climbing steps
again, but before going completely dark, our surroundings brightened
and we were in the foyer. It was hazy, and figures began to materialize
in front of us, only slowly coming into focus. Not wanting to see
anymore and determined to get the hell out of Gram’s twisted mind, I
hurried forward, watching the figures with a sidelong glance.
Penny stopped, of course—we had stopped every time before when
76 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 77
we encountered people—and so I ran headlong into her. I cried out in
surprise and she stumbled forward, stepped on the hem of her dress
which was too long, and crashed to the floor.
“Who’s there?” a voice shouted out, and I looked up from Penny
to see Uncle Ormund walking right towards us.
I knew that making noises or other distractions somehow awoke or
summoned all these memories we were witnessing, but it had never
occurred to me that we could actually interact or alter these memories
in Grams’ mind. They were memories after all, weren’t they? Or were
they dreams? Nightmares. The image of bear trap jaws, chains, and shit
flashed through my mind.
I stood frozen as Ormund walked toward us, staring right at us, but
then his gaze moved up and away and he turned back to the other
figure in the foyer.
“My apologies, Birney,” Ormund said to the young man standing
there in a mismatched five piece suit. The man’s face was distorted,
asymmetrical, giving him a permanent leering countenance. “This is my
mother,” Ormund continued. “Mother, you remember Albert Birney
The room rumbled around us.
Ormund’s jaw clenched. “Yes, well Terra should be down any
And there she was coming down the stairs, my mother dressed in
a flowing gown that was pleated beneath the breast line so that her
swollen belly was only slightly perceptible. She forced herself to smile.
“She’s fatter than I remember,” Birney said when she stopped and
curtsied in front of him.
My mother’s smile faded and even Ormund looked displeased.
“We discussed the situation already, Birney,” Ormund said flatly.
“Right,” Birney muttered. “C’mon, then, let’s get acquainted.” He
clamped a meaty hand around my mother’s upper arm and pulled her
toward the front door.
“Let go of me!” she yelled, pulling herself free and spinning to
retreat back up the stairs, but Ormund was there to grab her.
“You promised,” Ormund hissed at her. “Try to act like a lady. He’s
being a gentleman and taking you to the theatre.”
My mother closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Alright,” she
said and returned to Birney and offered her arm. He took it up
somewhat more gently this time.
“I don’t mind a girl that likes to spread her legs,” he said to
Ormund, “but if she don’t learn to only spread them for me and keep
her mouth shut, I ain’t about to marry her.”
My mother smacked him across the face, stunning him for a
moment, and she rushed away. This time Ormund let her go.
“Fucking bitch!” Birney said after a moment, making to go after
The room rumbled, and Ormund grabbed him. “You best go,
Birney. I’m sorry. I’ll punish her, don’t you worry.”
Birney collected himself and walked toward the front doors. When
he disappeared into the darkness, Ormund turned toward the stairs.
“Terra—goddammit—get down here!”
The room shook.
“No, mother, she didn’t have a right! She’s a whore. We’d have
been better off if you’d just let that goddamned wetback have her.”
“Your uncle is real mean to the real Terra,” Penny said when the
foyer had disappeared and we were continuing up the steps. “You think
that’s why she left when you were a little baby?”
“I guess so.” Truly, I didn’t know what to think. “How are you
“Better. The dress doesn’t seem so loose anymore.”
We must’ve been talking too loudly because we were suddenly in
my mother’s room again. It was empty so we kept moving on, but in
the brief light I saw that Penny was indeed taller already. She was
skinny and her face had thinned some; that’s all I noticed before we
slipped into the darkness and onto more steps.
Penny had said nothing more about reaching the real Hearne
house, about how it was taking so long, but it had been on my mind.
Grams’ hold over Penny was weakening, clearly, but she still had some
control over us, otherwise we would be free by now. This was her
realm, and whatever happened to her back in the fabricated house
below, whatever fatigue or weakness she was experiencing—be it
temporary or permanent—we were still trapped in her crazed, dead
mind. As I thought this, visions of shit specked teeth flashed through
my mind, and Penny being pulled into that pit of chains, shit, and
78 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 79
blood. I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut to rid myself of the
nightmare. When I opened them we were in Grams’ room and I
On the bed, beneath the quilted covers, a huge, misshapen lump
moved restlessly. It snored like some great grizzly bear, shaking the
floor beneath our feet. The sleeping beast—Grams, I knew—was
chained to the wall, but still I stood frozen. Penny had to grab my
hand, and forcefully pull me to get me moving, and even then I walked
stiff with fear and shame that Penny had been the brave one.
When it again became light we found ourselves in my mother’s
room. This time it was occupied. My mother lay screaming upon the
bed. The doctor stood hunched over between her outstretched legs.
“Push,” he yelled, then again. Ormund stood in the distance, watching.
I could feel the presence of Grams in the room around us, embodied in
the room around us.
“Push!” the doctor yelled over my mother’s screaming, and then
there was a new voice: mine.
The doctor held my infant form in the crook of his arm and snipped
away my umbilical cord as my mother panted and cried. When the
cord was clipped and cut away, he offered me to my mother, but she
was staring up at the ceiling, glass-eyed, and she screamed out again
“The afterbirth,” the doctor said, handing me over to Ormund, who
looked reluctant at first. But I saw wonderment in his eyes.
“One more time now,” the doctor yelled at my mother. “One more
My mother screamed and the room trembled beneath our feet.
I expected the room to fade away like all the others had, but it
didn’t. Instead, the light only dimmed and brightened again a moment
later. My mother was gone and a note lay folded upon the neatly made
bed. My still infant form slept in a cradle beside the bed. Uncle
“What is it, mother?”
The room shook and Ormund looked at the note on the bed. He
opened it and read. His face hardened. “Goddamn her. Of all the
Before he could finish, the room shuddered and a lamp flew from
the dresser-top and struck him in the shoulder.
“Christ!” Ormund yelled. “How’s it my fault?”
The bedspread burst from atop the bed in a shredded mess. The
dresser and nightstand toppled over and began spinning on the floor.
The infant me began wailing.
“Damnit, mother. Stop. You’re scaring him.”
The closet door flung open and clothes hurled outward at Ormund.
He knocked them away and grabbed me from the cradle. “Have your
little tantrum,” he yelled, “but I say, good riddance. She was a
worthless little slut and we’re better off without her.” And with that he
disappeared into the darkness with me in his arms.
The room buckled beneath our feet. The bed mattress flew into the
air, and then the box-spring beneath it. Penny grabbed hold of me and
we slunk back into the shadows of the room. The dresser splintered
into a thousand pieces and the floor broke apart to be taken up into a
cyclone. The cradle toppled over and was sucked up into the madness.
The light pulsed bright and dark around us. I held Penny tightly and
turned away from the room so that she was shielded from the debris.
The floor shook even more violently, wood splinters howled around us,
and I thought it would be the end for us, but then everything went still
and when we opened our eyes we stood in darkness.
“Are you alright?” I whispered.
“Yeah.” She seemed reluctant to let go of me.
“We have to keep going.”
She let go of me, but she was scared I could tell, so I held onto her
hand and we started the stairs together. We climbed wordlessly, both
a little shaken by the violence of the scene we’d witnessed. We passed
through the kitchen, which was thankfully unoccupied, and then back
into darkness. Sometime later we began hearing voices. They became
louder as we continued, then solidified.
We were in Grams’ room. It was Ormund who was talking, sitting
in a chair beside the bed and looking over a stack of mail. The bed
itself was alive. The mound beneath the covers mottled. The whole bed
frame bowed inward and outward as if breathing.
“She said no,” Ormund was saying, angrily. “I don’t know what
else I can do. Between taking care of you and Dedrick, I haven’t time
80 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 81
to spend with a woman properly. She doesn’t know me. How could we
even expect her to say yes.”
The bed shuddered, but Ormund ignored it. He looked at one of the
letters in his hand closely and tossed it at the bed with disgust. “The
bank is threatening to foreclose the estate if we’re late on another
payment. We’ll have to sell the truck and let the rest of our workers
The bed crinkled, almost folded in half.
“Well, I’m sorry, Mother. I don’t know what to tell you. With this
goddamned drought, the grape crop hasn’t yielded spit. If we have to
we can lease the vineyards to Spencer Thomas. God knows he’s made
the offer enough times—let him deal with grapes and all the god¬
damned Mexicans. I don’t have—“ Ormund stopped mid-sentence, his
attention focused on the last of the unopened letters.
The bed lurched forward toward him.
“Nothing, mother, it’s not for you,” he said, tucking the letter away
and making to leave.
The bed groaned.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ormund said. “I told you, it’s not for you. It’s
for me, so just let it be.”
The bed twisted. It sounded like steal pipes bending.
Ormund stepped toward the bed and jabbed at it with a pointed
finger. “That’s enough! I’ve had enough of your tantrums. The next
outburst from you and I’m calling the doctor again.”
The bed didn’t move, but the room rumbled around us.
Ormund stared at the bed for a moment more, then walked away
and the room faded to black.
The next room that appeared was my mother’s room. It wasn’t
quite right, though. It was still furnished as I remembered it, but a pink
and purple paisley bedspread had taken the place of my mother’s
bedspread and a lone teddy bear sat atop the pillows.
I meant to keep walking, but Penny stopped and sat on the bed. “I
need to rest for a minute.”
I remained standing and eyed the teddy bear with suspicion,
remembering the stuffed animals and toys that attacked us in the attic.
Penny stretched her legs with a little grunt, then stopped and
looked closely at her ankles that now protruded well beyond the hem
of the dress she wore. I looked too and saw what she was wrinkling her
nose about: hair. It was light colored and far from coarse, but it still
stood out against the backdrop of her pale skin. She wiggled her toes
and wrinkled her nose even more and I started to laugh, but then I
really looked at her. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. She looked to be
maybe eighteen or nineteen years old now. She was still thin, but had
filled out since I’d last gotten a chance to really look at her. Her face
was less angular, her lips more full, and her breasts noticeably larger.
I realized I was staring and that she was looking at me.
“Sorry,” I stammered, but she only smiled and then, as if the idea
just occurred to her, hopped up from the bed and smothered me with
a kiss. It was clumsy how she grabbed my head, accidentally bit my
lower lip, yet it was passionate, and her body pressed against mine
stirred my blood like it hadn’t been in a long time. It was only with
tremendous effort that I was able to slowly pull myself from her.
She made a fake little sad face at me. “Don’t you love me,
“Yes, but it’s...” I didn’t know what to say.
“Then keep kissing me. On the bed.” She grabbed my hand and
yanked me towards the paisley comforter.
“No,” I said, too brusquely, I realized when I saw the earnestly
pained look on her face.
“Why not? If you love me...”
“There are lots of types of love,” I tried explaining, but she just
looked at me, confused. “You’re still a girl, Penny. I’m a grown up, and
“I love you more than your wife.”
Again, I didn’t know what to say. She was probably more right
than she had any way of knowing. “Look,” I said finally, “we can talk
about it later, when we’re out of here, when we’re safe.”
She nodded her head, but I could see she was hurt. She turned and
led the way out of the room and we trudged back into darkness.
We walked silently now, but the rooms seemed to appear more
frequently. We passed through the great room, the dining room, the
foyer, the dining room again—all of them empty except for the
furnishings, which I began more and more to recognize from my
childhood. The next occupied room we came to was Grams’ bedroom,
82 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 83
and it was only occupied by the bed. It was alive, slumbering and
chained to the wall, but it still scared the hell out of me. Thoughts of
what lay beneath the covers bombarded my mind. I didn’t freeze up,
at least. Penny and I stayed to the shadows and moved silently through
the room into the darkness and the stairs.
Again we passed through a series of unoccupied rooms, then
started hearing voices. When they came into focus we were in Grams’
room and I shuddered, knowing we’d have to stand silently aside while
the memory ran its course.
To my horror, I was in the memory. I was four and lying on the bed
next to the undulating mound beneath the bedspread. I held a book up
above my face, babbling some nonsensical story that I was clearly
making up. The bed vibrated in annoyance.
“No, Grams!” the four-year-old me shouted. “It’s my story.” And
the little me continued to babble on the make-believe story.
The bed shook this time and the little me fell off the bed to hit the
floor and start crying. I swallowed and pushed myself farther back into
the shadows. I didn’t remember Grams ever having hit me. Admittedly,
I didn’t remember most things from my childhood, but it still shocked
Uncle Ormund walked in then and saw the little me crying on the
floor. He picked me up and dusted off my bottom. “Knock it off. You’re
a boy, not a little girl. Now what are you fussing about?”
The bed shuddered and Ormund looked at it with incredulity.
“Mother, he’s four years old. You can’t expect him to read yet.” He
snatched up the book from the bed and thumbed through it. “What is
this rubbish anyways? Fairytales? I don’t think we need to be filling the
boy’s head with fairytales, mother, and God knows they’re no thing for
an old woman to be reading. I’ll get something suitable for you to read
from the study if that’s what you want to do with your time.”
The bed rumbled and again Ormund looked down at it with
disdain. “No, mother! If we receive any word from her, you’ll be the
first to know.”
The bed was still. My skin prickled. Who was he talking about?
Receive word from who?
Ormund turned to the four-year-old me. “Out,” he said. “You’re not
allowed in Grams’ room anymore unless I’m here with you? Hear me?
If the rooms had seemed to appear frequently before, they came
even more rapidly now. One hardly disappeared before another
appeared. Although empty, we heard voices almost continually. At one
point we passed through my mother’s room and heard moan¬
ing—bedroom noises as Penny had termed it. I pretended not to notice
and moved us right along out of the room.
I began to worry because we were spending more and more time
passing through rooms and less time going up the stairs, and up was
where I wanted to be going. Up and the hell out of there. After some
time—probably not as long as it seemed—we came to the dining room
and were forced to stop. There were children there. It took me a
moment to process what I was seeing. The children were me and
Penny, but we were dressed all wrong. We were wearing the same
clothes Uncle Ormund and my mother had worn during a memory we
watched earlier: me in a white shirt and blue, denim overalls, and
Penny in a simple country dress.
Uncle Ormund—the older Uncle Ormund I knew as a child—
walked in carrying a birthday cake and he and little Penny began
singing to the little me. I—the real me—leaned forward and looked
closely at the cake.
It had seven candles on it. I counted twice to make sure, because
here’s the thing: Grams died when I was six. She wasn’t even alive to
have experienced this moment.
I pulled the real Penny closer towards me.
The seven-year-old me blew out the candles and the other Penny
and Uncle Ormund clapped. The little me pulled out one of the candles
and licked the frosting off the bottom. He pulled out another and
handed it to little Penny. “Here, Terra,” he said.
The little me had called Penny “Terra.”
I stepped forward, as if to somehow protest. Luckily, Penny had the
good sense to grab me and pull me back before I got too close. As it
was, Ormund swung his head towards us and looked around suspi¬
ciously. The room disappeared then and we were left in darkness.
“What’s wrong with you?” Penny hissed.
“Grams was dead before my seventh birthday; that’s what’s wrong.
And I called you Terra; that’s what’s wrong.”
“So what? Mother calls me Terra.”
In her simplistic way she was right. Grams thought of Penny as
Terra. That was the problem. We were in Grams’ memories and Grams
didn’t differentiate between Penny and my mother. “C’mon,” I
84 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 85
whispered, pushing Penny onward. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
We stepped forward, but we must have been too loud. Almost
immediately we were accosted by a blood-curdling scream and we
were in another room. A plate of food whirred past my face and
disappeared into the darkness. The stench of shit washed over us.
“Goddamnit!” Uncle Ormund yelled. “It’s for your own good. Settle
The bed was a writhing beast, stooped over and chained to the wall
of the bedroom. Tentacles lashed out from beneath the bedspread. One
of them flung shit at the doctor who stood beside Ormund. Another
tentacle hurled a serving tray at the two of them. The racket the beast
made was deafening, like an old steam shovel grinding away at a rock
“She’s beyond my help,” the cowering doctor yelled out. “All we
can do at this point is keep her sedated.”
“Easy for you to say,” Ormund hollered back, “You don’t have to
pay for it.”
The monster threw another pile of shit, which spattered across
Ormund’s face. He growled and rushed forward at the bed. The
tentacles shied away as if to shield itself from a blow. Ormund didn’t
hit the monster, though. Instead, he grabbed the tentacles and forced
them up and out of the way against the wall. “Quickly,” he said
through gritted teeth.
The doctor moved forward, a hideous hypodermic needle suddenly
I couldn’t bare to watch any more. I grabbed at Penny. “Go,” I
mouthed silently. She resisted at first, but I forced her ahead. The
screaming and light receded behind us and I pushed us on even more
rapidly. The surrounding light flickered, then distinguished.
The screams behind us were suddenly screams in front of us. I
grabbed Penny and pulled her to stop.
Something was around us. I pulled Penny closer to me. Something
slithered across the floor and brushed against my ankle. I peered down
through the inky blackness, trying to make out our surroundings.
Slowly—agonizingly slowly—the room illuminated. I made out
slithering, serpent like shapes first—all around us—then the granite
stone floor; then the gagging stench of urine and shit; and then in a
flash—at an exponential rate—it all blurred into focus: the low wood
slat ceiling, the writhing tentacles with spines of rusted chain, the
bear-trap jaws spewing shit and blood.
Penny cried out and I instinctively put myself in front of her. I
knocked aside a tentacle coming towards my face, kicked away
another at my feet. I tried backing us away, but no matter where we
went we seemed to be facing the same direction, toward Grams’ maw
of shit, blood, and chains.
The beast howled at us, lashed its tentacles at us. I held up my
arms to shield away the blows, but none of them struck me. It wasn’t
until Uncle Ormund yelled out from behind us that I realized Grams
wasn’t attacking us at all, that this was another memory.
Ormund materialized from the surrounding darkness, a leather belt
held in one hand. He cracked it down onto the stone floor and thrust
a tray full of food forward. A tentacle swiped the tray aside.
“Fine,” Ormund yelled. “Eat off the floor if that’s the way you want
it. If you could manage to act in a civilized manner, I’d let you go back
up in your room.”
Another tentacle lashed out at him. He brushed it aside and
brandished his belt. The tentacles shied away and the bear-trap maw
hissed submissively. Only for a moment, though. As soon as Ormund
turned away the tentacles whipped forward and lashed him across the
back of the head. He staggered forward, stunned. When he turned back
to face the monster, his eyes were mad. He seemed to grow in stature.
“Think you can strike me, old woman?”
He cracked the whip down onto one of the tentacles. The maw
screeched and spat at him. He hit it again, this time squarely in its face.
The tentacles fought back in a sudden frenzy, lashing and curling
around his arms and neck. Still he got bigger and his right arm raised
above the tentacles and brought down the belt with a crack. Again and
again and again he struck, until finally, the tentacles went limp and the
maw exhaled with a gurgling sigh.
The basement faded away and in the dark I half-whispered,
half-shouted toward Penny, “Go, go!”
We raced up the curving stairs, passed through room after room,
and more stairs and more rooms, left distant voices behind us, and still
ran on until we could run no more and collapsed onto the ground,
blinded by the sweat and fear in our eyes.
When I finally caught my breath, I realized I was lying on a bed.
Penny laid over me, crying softly into my shoulder. We were in my
86 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 87
mother’s room. It was back the way I remembered it, with the country
My shoulder was asleep and wet with tears where Penny was
resting her head, but still I was hesitant to stir her. She held onto me so
trustingly, and I had one arm draped around her back and another
cradling her head, I realized.
“Penny,” I whispered. “We should get moving.”
She raised her head up and looked at me, and for the first time I
wasn’t looking into the eyes of a child. There was pain and longing in
those eyes. All these years she’s lived in that freakish house, I thought.
In a child’s body. Waiting for me to come find her.
“I’m scared,” she said. “I want you to keep holding me.”
“I know,” I said, and I leaned forward, only intending to kiss her
on the forehead, but I didn’t stop her when she instead leaned her head
forward to meet her lips to mine.
She slid the rest of her body further up onto me as we kissed. Her
hands explored down from my arms, along the sides of my chest, and
I pulled her more tightly against me. She found the bottom of my shirt
and ran her hands up and over my skin. I grabbed at her lithe body, at
her legs wrapped around me. Her dress slid up along her thighs and my
hands brushed across the soft hair between her legs. She let out a soft
moan and I relented, gave myself over completely to the passion of the
At one time Erica and I had been passionate about each other.
That passion slowly faded with time, and then died for good when we
learned she couldn’t have children. We still had a healthy sex-life, if
not a little robotic, and I still loved her as you can’t help but love
someone whom you’ve cared for and lived with for such a large portion
of your life, but the passion was gone and in its place, routine.
All these thoughts ran through my mind as I lay sprawled out with
Penny. I had made a vow to Erica, I knew, and never before had I
cheated on her—not even contemplated cheating on her. Yet here I
was, unremorseful, laying with a hand cupped around one of Penny’s
breasts, having just taken her virginity. She had given herself to me so
completely, as I had to her. She had taken me into her so willingly, so
trustingly, although I knew it must have hurt her some, and never did
her passion waver. She appeared to be in her late twenties, maybe
early thirties, I guessed, but as I looked over her body and face, I
realized I couldn’t really tell how old she was; her body and mind were
completely unravished by the stresses of the real world. She’d never
smeared her face with make-up, or felt the stress of toiling long days at
a job, never been in love with someone who rejected her, or pickled her
liver with gin, or smoked a cigarette, or even been exposed to smog.
She was innocent. Apart from some lines around her eyes, no doubt
caused by living in that madhouse with Grams, she was unblemished.
When she stirred and asked me to make love to her again, I didn’t
hesitate. I should have. I should have remembered where we were.
I was still on top of Penny, still inside her, when the room imploded
around us. There had been no walls before, but there were now and
they buckled inward. The door burst off its hinges and flew over the top
of us. The dresser toppled over. The closet door blew open and sprayed
us with dresses. Penny screamed and pulled the covers up as I
scrambled off of her. Tentacles crept out from beneath the baseboards,
from around the crown molding. The house bellowed with rage. I could
feel Grams’ presence.
I grasped my pants from the foot of the bed and pulled them on,
then made to stand up, but saw at the last moment more chain- linked
tentacles sprouting from beneath the bed. I stood atop of the bed
instead and spun around to find a way out. Penny had pulled on her
dress and stood beside me.
“The door!” I yelled, and grabbed her hand.
We leapt, over the tentacles stretching outward from beneath the
bed. The wall ahead of us stretched away. We sprinted after it and
suddenly it stopped and I ran square into the door, which had
somehow reappeared. Penny fumbled at the doorknob as I staggered
back, stunned by the collision. I shook my head and grabbed the
doorknob myself. It wouldn’t turn; the entire wall bowed inward when
I yanked on it.
I kicked away one of the tentacles reaching for us and spun back
around to face the room. There was a faint light illuminating the
window, I saw. “Wait here,” I told Penny and dashed across the room
to the window. The pane was fused solid, but the glass shattered when
I smashed it with my elbow. I leaned out, hoping to see trees and
vineyards, or my rental car in the driveway. Instead I saw only void.
88 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 89
Not light, not dark. Void. An airless gust of wind blew my hair back. I
looked down and saw we were in a tower, impossibly high, and yet at
the base I somehow saw a pile of gelded men; farther off I saw the
house, the nightmare Hearne house. It pulsated. Tentacles of chains
sprouted from its base and spiraled up around the tower.
I pulled myself back into the room and looked hopelessly at Penny
who still stood at the door. She looked at me and pointed.
“The keys,” she yelled. “Your keys!”
Of course, my keys were still clipped to one of my belt loops. I was
at Penny’s side in three strides. The first key I thrust into the keyhole
opened the door and we rushed ahead into darkness. The stairs shook
beneath our feet as we spiraled upward and the bedroom disappeared
below us. I could hear the stone steps splitting, could hear tentacles
rooting through the grout between the cracks. One of them slapped at
my ankle but I high stepped free of its grasp.
The stairs were gone suddenly and we were in the master bedroom.
Grandpa Hearne tilted a decanter back against his lips and belched fire
at us. We ducked away and were in the dining room. A teenaged Uncle
Ormund chased after us with a yardstick in hand. “Goddamnit, Terra,”
he yelled. “Come here!” We outran him and were on stairs again, and
then in Grams’ room and a doctor with a rusty needle lumbered after
us. “It’s for your own good. It’s for your own good!” Grams’ room
evaporated away and we ran through the attic, toys chasing us. I
lowered my shoulder into a giant teddy bear, bowling it aside, and then
crushed a porcelain doll underfoot as we once again traversed stairs.
Moaning echoed around us and suddenly we were in my mother’s
room. The mustachioed demon fucking her leapt from between her legs
and gnashed his teeth at us. Penny sidestepped him and I shoved him
away. The bedroom turned into the study and snapping, mana¬
cle-toothed books cascaded from the bookshelf walls around us. They
swirled and piled up in front of us, then turned into a mountain of
unopened letters in the master bedroom beneath the impossibly tall
canopied bed. Uncle Ormund sat atop the mountain, black hair
bristling from his orange, simian head. “You’ll never hear from her
again,” he chimed. “Never, never, never.” And then we were in the
great room and there I was, a twelve-year-old boy. “...five... six...
seven...” I was saying, and little Penny dashed away in front of us.
“No!” I yelled after her, but she didn’t stop. We ran after her, through
the foyer, through the dining room, through the kitchen, through the
breakfast nook. “Ready or not, here I come!” I heard the twelve-year-
old me yell out. “No!” I yelled out at little Penny who ducked away
into Grams’ room. We followed after her. “No!” the real Penny yelled
out at little Penny who pulled up the trap door and disappeared into
the floor. We followed after her, through the trap door and up the stairs
that should have been going down, and then—suddenly—we were in
the basement. The real basement.
Little Penny was gone. The real Penny and I stood upon the real
stone foundation of the Hearne house. Above us were joists and a
wood slat ceiling, which comprised the floorboards of Grams’ bedroom
above us. To our left were the stairs leading upward, one of the steps
partway up broken in half. All around us were granite stone walls,
again part of the foundation. In front of us, chained to the closest wall
was Grams, the nightmare Grams from my suppressed memories, the
beast that had stolen Penny away all those years ago—the gaping pit
of rusted teeth, chain tentacles, shit, and blood.
I grabbed Penny and stopped dead in my tracks as Grams’ maw
bellowed. The stench of decay plowed over us. Mealworms wriggled
through the cracks of the floor. Grams’ tentacles moved towards Penny.
Give her to me, Ormund, Grams said, not with words but in our
heads. You won’t take her from me again.
“No!” Penny cried out. She grasped her arms around me. “Dedrick,
don’t let her take me.”
And I remembered. I remembered how I had frozen and pissed
myself as a boy when Grams dragged Penny away into that maw. I
remembered the shame of not helping my best friend, and of the police
officers laughing at me when I told them what happened. I remembered
Uncle Ormund’s stern reprimands and warnings to me to quit fibbing.
I remembered the sleepless nights in my bedroom, and then finally the
boarding school with the meds and the doctors that made it all fade
away. I remembered.
Give her to me, Ormund, Grams said in my head as she reached
outward with her tentacles. My arms tensed in sudden paralysis, my
bladder squeezed, but I pinched the urine back and willed myself to
“I’m not Ormund,” I said, “And she’s not your daughter. You can’t
Grams hissed in my brain and struck. The tentacles knocked me
90 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 91
back and before I could regain my footing, one of them had hold of
Penny. She screamed as it yanked her towards Grams’ maw. I
scrambled forward, slipping on the mealworms I was crushing beneath
my shoes, but retaining enough balance to grab hold of Penny and
reach the tentacle wrapped around her legs. I bit at it, felt feculent puss
gush into my open mouth and one of my teeth crack on a link of the
chain spine. I vomited, but bit down again, suddenly surging with
adrenaline and fury. I forced my fingers into the flesh I had rent open
with my teeth and wedged them beneath the chain, then yanked at it,
up and away from the tentacle. It pulled loose like a string of beads
buried in mud.
Grams shrieked in pain and the tentacle released Penny. I helped
Penny to her feet and tried pushing her towards the stairs, but then the
other tentacles were on me. One of them whipped my legs out beneath
me. Another struck me across the face. The biggest of them wrapped
around my chest and began constricting like a python. “Run,” I tried
wheezing toward Penny, but when I craned my head back I saw that
the tentacles had her too.
She's mine, Grams said into our heads as she dragged us toward
her maw. And I'm going to kill you once and for all, Ormund.
I’m not Ormund, I tried saying, but there was no breath in me.
“Dedrick!” Penny yelled, still struggling to get away.
I reached my hand weakly towards her and she stretched out,
somehow grasped hold of it. I clamped down with what little strength
I had left. Together we were able to pull ourselves together and the big
tentacle around me loosened, only for a split second, but long enough
for me to gasp in a razor breath.
“Dedrick!” Penny yelled out again.
I flailed, trying to free myself, and only managed to get my free arm
wedged against my side between the tentacles. I reached out with my
fingers, intending to pinch my way through the tentacles if nothing else.
Instead, my fingers found my key ring. With sudden hope, I grasped at
it so that the keys protruded outward from my fingers like blades, then
jabbed at the tentacles holding me. They loosened for a moment and
I pulled my arm free. I punched now at the tentacles around me with
all my strength, driving the keys deep into tentacle flesh, grunting with
the exertion. I could feel the tentacles recoil at the first few strikes, but
then they steadied and constricted around me again.
You think this hurts? Grams taunted me. I've lived a life of pain.
It was hopeless. Already the bear trap teeth were licking at my
ankles and the tentacles were pulling us steadily into the maw.
“You promised!” Penny cried out at me. “You promised, Dedrick!”
I still had her held close to me. I still had my other arm free and the
key ring in hand. I did the only thing left I could do: I pulled Penny as
close as I could and held the keys to her throat.
“Stop,” I said very calmly. “Stop or I kill her.”
The tentacles loosened around us and I pulled Penny closer to me,
pressed the keys up against her throat. Self-pity surged out from Grams
in waves. No, please, she begged. Don’t take my daughter from me.
I stood and dragged Penny up with me. She was crying, but I didn’t
dare look at her or say anything to reassure her.
“Listen to me,” I yelled out at Grams. “Will you listen to me? If you
don’t I’ll kill her.”
“She’s not your daughter. Her name is Penny. Your daughter, Terra,
left a long time ago. Can you understand that?”
She is my daughter!!!!
The pure, raw emotion burned through my mind in a white flash.
My vision blurred and my knees almost buckled beneath me.
Don't take her away from me again!
I blinked my eyes open and closed, trying to refocus them on
Grams. I could only see the tentacles as a blur, though, a web constrict¬
ing around us. The only thing I could focus on clearly was Penny’s neck
and my keys held up against it.
“Dedrick,” Penny sobbed.
We’ll all die together if we must, Grams threatened.
I blinked my eyes again and saw the key protruding foremost
between my fingers. It was the warded key left to me with Uncle
Ormund’s will. I remembered then the box I had found upstairs with
the letters in it. The handwriting on them I didn’t recognize, but did.
And the distorted dreams we’d seen with Ormund hording letters away.
Sitting on top of a mountain of letters.
Release her or kill us all.
The web of tentacles constricted around us.
“No,” I yelled out. “I can give you your daughter—the real
Terra—if you promise to let us go free.”
92 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 93
I didn’t explain to Grams any further what I meant. I merely
convinced her to hold me hostage while Penny went upstairs into the
real house to retrieve the wooden chest full of letters. Penny gave
Grams her word that she would return, and Grams relented. Beneath
the anger, the loss, and sense of betrayal, I could sense a great
weariness in her, a desire to trust someone.
I sat wordlessly in the basement, Grams’ tentacles spread around
me like some saurian nest, ready to squeeze my life away if Penny
didn’t return quickly enough.
She returned quick enough, with the box like I had instructed her.
I took it and opened the lid with the key Uncle Ormund had left
me. Grams gasped in our minds when she saw the letters spill out. I
grabbed up the first one and opened it, began to read the immaculate
handwriting. The note was brief, but in it my mother said that she was
safe, living in Crescent City, and that she loved me and Grams, and
even Uncle Ormund. I read the next letter, and the next, and the next,
in no particular order. They were very much similar, each from a
different location, but all saying that my mother was fine and that she
loved and missed us.
As I read the letters, the tentacles began to shrink away, and the
bear trap maw softened. After a while, the shape of a woman began to
take form, chained up against the wall. Several letters later, I could see
that she was crying—fearlessly, but crying nonetheless.
There were only three letters left.
“Go,” I said to Penny. “Wait for me upstairs.”
Yes, Grams whispered. Go. Thank you for loving me, sweet child.
“I’ll be up in a minute,” I promised.
She nodded, then turned away and exited up the stairs and through
the hatch into the Hearne house.
I turned my attention back to Grams and read the last three letters.
When I was done, there was little left of her. Only a withered form
hung from the manacles chained to the wall. I stood up and stepped up
to her. I kissed my fingers and touched them to her forehead, then stuck
a random key into the first manacle—I knew any of them would
work—and unlatched it. I did the same for the second manacle and the
now tiny figure collapsed to the ground and flitted apart like a cloud of
cigar smoke. An airless breeze blew across my face like a sigh.
I climbed out of the cellar into Grams’ room, haggard as hell:
shirtless, part of one ear missing, my cheek split open, and my head
throbbing. It took me a moment to realize Penny wasn’t there. I knew
that she had to be safe, that Grams was peacefully at rest, finally, but
still I felt a panic deep inside me.
“Penny,” I called out as I stepped out of the room into the breakfast
nook. There was no response. I called out her name again in the great
room, then in the foyer. I glanced up the stairwell with the dangling
handrail, thinking she might have gone upstairs, but the front door
creaked with a sudden gust of wind and I realized she must have gone
outside. God knows, I couldn’t blame her; I didn’t want to ever set foot
in the house again.
I limped out through the threshold and there on the porch stood
Penny, completely naked. The dress she had been wearing was gone,
disappeared along with Grams and the tower and the fake house and
everything else. Penny’s nudeness was not what shocked me, however.
What shocked me was the rusty garden hoe in her hands, and my
wife’s body lying in a pool of blood. It took me a second to compre¬
hend why Erica was even here, but then I saw the second rental car in
the driveway and I remembered the argument we had over the phone
after the funeral.
I bent down and touched Erica’s bloodied face. Her forehead
collapsed beneath my touch. Her eyes were lifeless. She was dead.
I stood, in a daze. “Why?”
“I’m sorry, Dedrick,” Penny said, “But I love you more.”
My lips moved, but nothing came out. All I could to do was push
Penny into my rental car, stick the key in the ignition, and speed
94 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 95
Unlike most days when she stood by the door to greet us, today Ms.
Ringwood walked to the window and pushed it open. A large gust of
wind blew the papers off her desk. She laughed and said, “Don’t you
just love this wind?’’
Becca picked up her papers and placed books on them so they
wouldn’t blow away again. Ms. Ringwood continued leaning out the
window, similar to our dog when he rides in the car. “I just love this
wind!” No one acknowledged her.
“I remember this bitterly cold wind while traveling through Siberia.
That’s a wind I’ll never forget,” she said walking toward her desk.
Ms. Ringwood seemed to have visited every country. She loved
teaching Geography, telling us stories about people she met, showing
us slides, making us weird food to go with each country.
Standing in front of our class, rambling on about Siberia, I couldn’t
take my mind off her breasts. Ever since I overheard the Biology
teacher talking to the History teacher about how Ms. Ringwood had
perky tits, I’ve found myself drifting off, staring at them.
Perky. Tits. Until I heard him use those words in the same sentence,
I never thought tits could be perky. That seemed more like a word my
grandmother would use to talk about a person’s behavior, not a
person’s tit. Perky. But there she was, standing in front of the class,
window blowing her loose blouse, revealing her perky tits.
The class was laughing at something funny she had just said while
I was missing out on the entire story, lost in the world of perky, when
Ms. Ringwood dropped to the ground and started convulsing. Some
kids howled, thinking this was part of her hilarious travel story, others
started screaming, realizing this was serious, and I stupidly noticed that
the teachers were right: her breasts were perky, even while seizuring, or
whatever she was doing on the floor.
Something was seriously wrong with my head to be thinking that
way, but it was uncontrollable, not unlike Ms. Ringwood’s uncontrolla¬
ble shaking. Neither of us could help it.
By the time the shaking stopped, two other teachers were in the
room and Leslie had called 911 on her cell phone. I kicked myself for
not being useful, running down the hall to get help, or standing beside
her, holding her head, trying to prevent it from banging on the hard
floor, the way Janine bravely wrapped her arms beneath her head,
creating a pillow of sorts.
No one knew what to do. Ms. Ringwood remained on the floor,
dazed but conscious. I was wishing for a gust of wind to bring her back
to Siberia. But no wind could reach her on the floor.
The school nurse rushed into our room and insisted the two
teachers bring us anywhere, as long as we were out of the room.
It was the last period before lunch so they told us to stay in the
cafeteria. They had to get back to their own students so they sent a
secretary to sit with us.
“Man, that was freaky.” It was so freaky no one dared say anything
about what had happened until Josh finally said what was on our
“You think it was some memory about Siberia?” Lana asked. She
was always analyzing everything. Ever since she started taking Psych,
she believed she understood the meaning of everything.
“I think she had a seizure,” Andy said. “We used to have an
epileptic dog. She looked just like Ms. Ringwood.”
We all laughed, imagining the dog looking like the real Ms.
Ringwood, not the one writhing all-weird like on the floor.
“Seriously, she looked like she was having a seizure,” Andy
repeated, clearly disturbed by our laughter.
“On House, there was a woman seizuring and they thought she had
a brain tumor. You think she’s dying?” Janelle whispered loudly.
“How old do you think she is?” Caleb asked.
“Hard to say,” Camille answered. “Think she’s thirty?”
“That old?” Robbie sounded disappointed.
I felt too guilty to say anything. There she was talking about the
wind and I was contemplating all the meanings of perky.
“It’s just so weird. One second she’s telling us a story and the next
second she’s on the ground.” Josh shook his head. “That’s fucked up.”
“I bet she has a brain tumor,” Janelle said more loudly, wanting to
make sure we all heard her diagnosis.
96 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Arkham Tales, February 2009 97
All of us jumped at the sound of thunder. The cafeteria door blew
open and shut.
“Enough playing doctor,” Rachel scolded us. “I can’t believe this
wind. It is amazing.” Rachel didn’t wait for the lunch bell to ring. She
just opened the door and walked outside.
No one really paid attention to her. She was like me, someone no
one really noticed. Except I watched Rachel spread her arms wide, as
if she were a bird about to take flight. I couldn’t see her face, just the
back of her, but I imagined she had a wide grin on her face. Or, maybe
it was a meditative sigh. Hair blowing in the wind, arms stretched wide,
this is my truest image of Rachel.
“She’s a freak,” Janelle said, finally noticing. “Anything to be
And just like that, everyone turned to look at Rachel, and every one
of us watched her get hit by lightening, a sight none of us will ever
Rachel had that same dazed look when they lifted her into the
The wind disappeared.
The lightning ended.
Ms. Ringwood and Rachel drifted in other realms, dazed, yet
somewhat mesmerized, while I remained in the same place, pondering
stupid things like perky tits. •
98 Arkham Tales, February 2009
Brie Barnes (“Cthulhu’s Nightmare,” page 22), alter ego and resident
artist to the body of Rich Pearl, is a writer of short stories, poetry, and
everything in between. His work has appeared in Motley Fool,
Champagne Shivers, Astropoetica. The Copperfield Review, and other
Garrett Calcaterra ("The Key Ring," page 44) is a writing instructor at
Chapman University and the Orange County High School of the Arts.
His writing has appeared in numerous magazines and fiction antholo¬
gies, including Sex & Seduction, The Oregon Literary Review, Impose,
and The Rejected Quarterly. His website is
K.S. Clay (“Mi Morena,” page 4) is a writer from Northern California
fascinated by spooky stories; she is currently at work on a novel. Her
website is http://ksclay.net.
K.S. Conlon (“Drown,” page 43) lives in Brisbane, Australia and has
previously published work in A Fly in Amber, Scifaikuest and Dead
Letters: The Magazine of the Zombie Apocalypse.
Matt Finucane (“A Curse in Any Language,” page 30) is a musician and
writer living in London. An e.p. ("Episodes") was recently released by
Light Crude Records. His horror/fantasy novel Leland Poetis due for
publication this spring by Legend Press, and various short stories are
scheduled to come out in 2009 in venues such as Murky Depths and
The Third BHF Book of Horror Stories. His website is
Catherine J. Gardner (“Uncle Eric’s Leather Bound Tale,” page 34) has
had over sixty of her short stories published in various magazines and
anthologies. She has work forthcoming in Postscripts, Fantasy
Magazine, Space and Time, Necrotic Tissue, and the Dead Souls and
Malpractice anthologies. She blogs at http://fright-fest.bIogspot.com.
Arkham Tales, February 2009 99
Jason Hardy (“The Night Visitor,” page 18) hails from southeastern
Massachusetts, where he spends his daylight hours writing and editing
for an appraisal firm. He writes fictional tales of woe when more
respectable folks are sleeping, and has recently sold stories to Coyote
Wild and Necrotic Tissue.
Dev Jarrett (“What Friends Are For,” page 10) is a soldier in the U.S.
Army currently stationed at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. His previous
publications include short fiction in Niteblade e-zine, Hungur Maga¬
zine, and the 2007 Southern Fried Weirdness anthology, and the
standalone novella Family Tradition from Sam’s Dot Publishing.
John Jasper Owens (“Some Nutcase,” page 40) lives in the South, and
was not named after the painter, although thank you for your concern.
He has published online at Yankee Pot Roast and Flash Me Magazine,
and has work upcoming in The Big Jewel, A Capella Zoo, and the
inaugural issue of shortstoryofthemonth.com.
Diane Payne (“Weather,” page 96) teaches creative writing at the
University of Arkansas-Monticello. She is the author of two novels,
Burning Tulips and A New Kind of Music, and has been published in
hundreds of literary magazines. Her website is
http://home.earthIink.net/ ~ dianepayne/.
Bret Tallman (“Compositions in Gratitude and Sorrow,” page 27) lives
in New York City. His other stories have appeared in Hub, Down in the
Cellar and others, and will be appearing in Aoife 's Kiss and Black Ink
Jean-Marc Velladier (cover art, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”) is a
French photographic artist whose work can be seen at
100 Arkham Tales, February 2009
genre cinema *
until It begs